Another great and timely reader question in my inbox this week:
I'd love to know what you think of Microban. It seems this label is appearing on more consumer products all of the time, but I'm kind of afraid of it since it sounds like an "antibacterial coating", and I wonder if it's really necessary. I will be having a baby in January, and I see a lot of baby and children's products that say they use Microban - so I'm wondering if I should be avoiding those products. I now question everything that states "antibacterial" - even those that say "naturally antimicrobial". Would you be able to clear this up for me?
I have seen this label on a lot of plastic items lately. I first saw it in potty seats a while back and most recently encountered it when I went to a store to buy "big girl scissors" for my three year old. Should you avoid it? Well I personally ran from the place - scissor-less - when I noticed every single pair was "protected by" Microban. I ran straight to my computer so I could figure out what that meant. Even though I never found the exact answer (the company doesn't really come clean on its ingredients or properties on their website -- "Microban® antimicrobial protection is built-in to products during manufacturing to provide continuous antimicrobial product protection. Microban protection can be found in hundreds of consumer, industrial and medical products around the world. For an added level of product protection against microbes, look for the Microban® brand on the products you buy."), I know enough about unknown antimicrobials from my work and research to avoid them across the board when and if there are any other choices. There usually are.
I emailed Kim back to see where, specifically, she had seen the stuff, to make sure she would have other choices. Her response?
I have seen in stores the Microban label on several diaper bags and those baby changing stations in bathrooms. I did a search online and saw they are also putting it in certain keyboards, mouse pads, pet dishes, Teva sandals, yoga mats, sinks/washtubs, cutting boards, and other kitchen and baby items, it seems. I sure hope they don't start putting it in everything!
It does seem to be getting uncomfortably prevalent but yes, there are Microban-free choices for all of the above. Meanwhile, some of my most trusted resources are also suggesting people avoid Microban. The NRDC's Dr. Gina Solomon says:
"In general, anti-microbial and anti-bacterial products harm beneficial microbes as well as harmful ones. Remember, not all bacteria is bad! The use of antimicrobials may cause resistant strains of microorganisms and that's bad for everyone. Warm soapy water remains the simplest anti-bacterial treatment.
Microban's website doesn't list the specific anti-bacterial chemicals in its product so it's hard to determine how it works or whether it contains dangerous chemicals. Some anti-bacterial chemicals that are commonly added to consumer products - like triclosan and triclocarban - are suspected endocrine disruptors. Endocrine disruptors can cause hormonal abnormalities, birth defects and reproductive problems."
And the Environmental Working Group has this to say about it (as part of a post on how to avoid antimicrobials like triclosan when manufacturers don't always explain what antimicrobials a product contains):
"...[I]t can be nearly impossible to determine which products contain antimicrobial agents such as triclosan. Increasing numbers of manufacturers now label products as "antibacterial" without specifying the specific chemicals used. The problem becomes more even complicated when companies play shell games to disguise which of their products contain antimicrobial compounds. A prime example of this is the Microban Product Company.
Contrary to popular belief, triclosan is not the same as Microban. Triclosan is officially registered under the EPA as "Microban additive B" - that is to say, any given product sold under the Microban trade name does not necessarily contain triclosan. Which antimicrobial agent is being used for those products, however, the company will not disclose: it could quite literally be anything!"
Which is why I'm avoiding when and where I can and suggest you do, too. We might not be able to avoid it on a public baby changing station but we certainly do not have to bring it into our own homes. Meanwhile, between enjoying your baby kicks and setting up your baby's nursery/space, call up Microban and ask them for total transparency on what the antimicrobial agent actually is. Public pressure is a powerful thing.
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