Would you wash your hands or brush your teeth with pesticides? Would you put them inside your shoes or under your arms? You might be doing it right now without even knowing it.

Triclosan (also known as Irgasan and Microban) is an anti-microbial pesticide, a substance used to destroy or suppress the growth of harmful microorganisms like bacteria, viruses or fungi on things like counters and toys. Like all pesticides, it is registered with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the United States.

Triclosan is also used in personal care products like soap, toothpaste and lotion, but is not considered a pesticide because of a loophole in U.S. federal law. Anti-microbial products used on the body, in processed food or food wrappers, even with identical active ingredients, are technically not considered pesticides and are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Triclosan is one of the active ingredients used in antibacterial products. Companies using it can register with Health Canada to market everything from soaps to socks as “antibacterial.” Health Canada has registered 1,200 cosmetics with the ingredient.

Products like Colgate Total, Softsoap Antibacterial Liquid Hand Soap, Arm & Hammer Essentials Natural Deodorant, Gilette Complete Care MultiGel, Solarcaine, and even Jason Natural Cosmetics all contain Triclosan. What surprised me the most were Merrell Shoes and Teva Sandals (Teva is usually a very environmentally friendly company).

Over 95 per cent of Triclosan ends up down the drain. Wastewater treatment plants cannot remove it from water, so Triclosan ends up in our streams, rivers and, eventually, back into our tap water.

A new study in the U.S. found that, when mixed with tap water, Triclosan reacts with chlorine molecules to form chlorinated dioxins, which are highly toxic. Because the study was done using Triclosan-containing dishwashing soap, researchers believe that these chlorinated dioxins are forming in kitchen sinks everywhere. The same study also found that the combination of Triclosan and tap water produces significant quantities of chloroform, which is believed to cause cancer.

In proper settings, such as labs and hospitals, Triclosan is quite useful. It kills bacteria. The problem is, it kills all bacteria. This is good in medical settings, but not in the home. A study of 200 healthy households found that those using antibacterial products did not have any fewer runny noses, coughs or other symptoms of infectious diseases.

Children, especially, need to be exposed to a fair amount of bacteria to properly develop their immune system in order to combat disease in the future.

There are also serious concerns that Triclosan may encourage the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. By killing the normal bacteria, it creates an environment where mutated bacteria that are resistant to Triclosan are more likely to survive and reproduce.

If you like to disinfect or are concerned about having bacteria in your home, there are other solutions. Get a spray bottle from a convenience store, fill it with distilled or filtered water, buy a dish soap that is not antibacterial (like unscented Ivory), put a teaspoon in the bottle and add 20 to 30 drops of an organic essential oil like cinnamon, tea tree, eucalyptus or oregano. Mix well before each spray. It can literally be sprayed safely on anything. And it is not toxic.

If you want to buy products that don’t contain Triclosan and still disinfect, look for ingredients like tea-tree oil or grapefruit-seed extract, which are very common. Alcohol-based antibacterial soaps such as Purell do not carry the same risks of antibiotic resistance and dioxin contamination, as do Triclosan-containing products.

Lastly, wash your hands thoroughly and often. Rinse your hands, turn off the water, lather for at least 10 to 15 seconds, then turn the water back on and rinse. Dry your hands with a clean towel. Do this when you handle food, before eating, when you leave the washroom, and when someone in your house is sick. Teach your children to do the same.

That way you will be sick less often, all while avoiding using pesticides in your home.