This Household Toxin Reduces Muscle Function

New study highlights safety concerns over common chemical

You are no stranger to triclosan, whether you realize it or not. This antibacterial chemical has been around for more than 40 years, originally introduced to protect from infections in hospitals, and has crept its way into hundreds of household products—hand soaps, deodorants, toothpaste, bedding, carpet, and even toys and trash bags. What’s more, it’s now present in detectable amounts in waterways and aquatic animals as well as everything in humans from urine on up to breast milk.

But triclosan’s prevalence is no indicator of its safety. According to a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the chemical, even in small doses, may pose a threat to both skeletal and heart muscle function.

Researchers exposed “test tube” muscle tissue, mice and fathead minnows to triclosan in amounts comparable to typical human exposure. (Get ready for the scary stuff.) In heart and skeletal “test tube” tissue, triclosan caused complete muscle failure; in mice, grip strength (a standard measurement for mouse-might) was reduced by 18 percent, and cardiac function was reduced by 25 percent; in minnows living in triclosan-tainted water for a week, swimming speed was significantly slowed.

What does it mean? While more research is needed to confirm whether triclosan has similar effects on people, “These findings provide strong evidence that the chemical is of concern to both human and environmental health,” according to Isaac Pessah, professor and chair of the Department of Molecular Biosciences in the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and principle investigator of the study. “Regulatory agencies should definitely be reconsidering whether it should be allowed in consumer products.”

But until that research and regulation comes along, why risk it? Especially for athletes (who rely on optimal muscle function) or those with heart conditions (who can’t withstand a reduction in cardiac function), no good reason exists for triclosan use. So while you can’t control its environmental prevalence, wise up to triclosan in your home with these tips from the Environmental Working Group.

  • Skip antibacterial soap—regular soap and hot water work just fine.
  • Read the labels on personal care products, where makers are required to list triclosan as an active ingredient if it’s in there. If it is, find a new product.
  • Avoid products that make claims like “antibacterial,” “germ-fighting,” “odor-fighting” and “mold-protecting.” Since triclosan can be found in a huge variety of products that, unlike personal care items, aren’t required to list it as an ingredient, (seriously—phones, mattresses, cutting boards…the list goes on) a better-safe-than-sorry approach is your best bet.