Antibacterials and antibiotic resistance

Can antibacterial ingredients affect resistance to antibiotics?

Antibiotic resistance is a serious challenge for our world, but antibacterial products like bleach and other disinfectants aren’t part of the problem. 

Good hygiene, in which targeted use of disinfectants plays a crucial role, is a way of reducing the spread of resistance

Laboratory studies have shown that some antibacterial ingredients might encourage antibiotic-resistant bacteria in artificial circumstances designed to favour them. Despite decades of using these ingredients, it just hasn’t been found in the real world.

Bacteria can be ‘trained’

Bacteria can use the same mechanism to reduce their sensitivity to a wide range of substances. And you can ‘train’ bacteria to tolerate higher and higher doses by exposing them to low doses that are insufficient to kill them. But take away the special ‘training’ conditions and the common, non-resistant strains take over again.

Bacteria can spit out what they don’t like

For example, one of these mechanisms is called efflux and works via little ‘pumps’ in the walls of the bacterial cells that allow them to spit out things they don’t like. These pumps can be ‘switched on’ both by certain antibiotics and by certain anti-bacterial ingredients – but they can also be switched on by dozens of other common substances, including garlic, mustard, chilli and various other household products. 

Bleach resistance is unlikely

For some ingredients it’s most unlikely that bacteria could develop tolerance because they literally take the bacteria apart, rather than interfering with their workings. These ingredients may also decompose in the process, so there’s nothing for the bug to get used to. Such ingredients include sodium hypochlorite and peroxides, which are used in bleaches and by the human body to destroy invading bacteria. Alcohol evaporates after use.

Scientists are on the look-out

Studies have been conducted specifically to look for signs of possible problems where antibacterial products are used in the real world. 

They have studied bacteria in different homes…  

Studies comparing bacterial strains from homes where anti-bacterial household products were used, and homes where they weren’t, found antibiotic-resistant bacteria were equally common in both groups. So there’s no sign that the use of antibacterial products in the home is encouraging bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics or to the antibacterial ingredients themselves. 

Vigilance will be maintained 

No actual reduction of the effectiveness of an antibiotic in real use as a consequence of antibacterial cleaning product use has ever been seen.

But because of the theoretical possibilities, the situation should be monitored closely, and various UKCPI member companies are engaged in developing the scientific understanding of resistance mechanisms.

UKCPI supports the targeted approach to home hygiene developed by the International Scientific Forum on Home Hygiene (IFH). This approach focuses hygiene efforts, especially the use of disinfectants, on the times, places and situations that really matter.  

Cleaning at the right time and place is vital

These include cleaning before high-risk activities such as preparing food and cleaning up after high-risk events such as someone being sick.

Hygiene is very important when someone in the home is ill, to stop spread to others. It is also essential when there are infants, elderly people or others present with depressed immune systems, because they can pick up infections much more easily. 

It is increasingly widely recognised that reducing the number of bacterial infections by good hygiene in the home and all walks of life directly reduces the use of antibiotics, and this process will reduce the spread of resistance.

Contact the UKCPI on or call 07843 199397.