Parents New Challenge: Banning Microban?

Filed Under Chemicals, Product Safety 

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With the “back-to-school” posts surely being worked on right now I wanted to look into the use of Microban and perhaps raise some awareness about it before school shopping begins.  I noticed that school supplies have shown up in Target here in the south since school starts back on August 9th.  I cruised through there and noticed alarmingly just how many school supplies boast MICROBAN on the labels.  Jennifer and I were commenting on how hard it had been for her to find a pair of kid scissors without Microban recently and while I was not surprised, it really didn’t sink in how big of an issue this might become until I went looking or a simple set of protractors for my son.  All but one set of them had a Microban label on the package.

What Does Microban Do?

I think there is some confusion about what Microban is and isn’t.  If you asked someone randomly what they thought it was they’d probably say something like “It makes things germ resistant”.  (I asked 3 random people the question “What do you think Microban does?” and all three people told me the same thing: That it helps protect us from germs.) Considering it’s used in a lot of kitchen and childrens products you might even assume it helps stop the spread of germs therefore protecting you from getting sick.  Here is the description of what it really does right from the Microban website:

*Microban® antimicrobial product protection is engineered to protect products from bacteria, mold and in some cases algae that can cause stains, odors and product deterioration. Microban protection is not designed to protect users from disease causing microorganisms. … Microban product protection inhibits the growth of microorganisms that can cause stains, odors and product degradation.

Hmm.  So adding Microan to my child’s pencil will keep the pencil from getting bacteria, mold or algae on it.  Because pencils and kid scissors are so prone to getting stained and deteriorating.  The horror.  So its not protecting your child or the product user from spreading or contracting germs, it’s protecting the product from getting discolored or moldy. It protects products from bacteria, yes but the bacteria that causes mold  – not diseases. This is according to Microban.  I’ve read in other articles that Microban does create a resistance to some bacteria that could cause infections but that Microban is very clear not to make that claim.  Microban may be successful in harming good microbes (the ones we need) as well.

What Is Microban?

Microban is a proprietary mix of chemicals (they call it “technologies”) possibly containing Triclosan.  It is added to a product during manufacturing and becomes part of its molecular structure.  The problem is that we don’t know what is in Microban.  It’s all very secretive and proprietary.  According to the Environmental Working Group:

“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!”

Considering the things we know about Triclosan (Lab studies link triclosan to cancer, developmental defects, and liver and inhalation toxicity), there may be cause for concern.  Triclosan is a  possible hormone disruptor and is basically a pesticide which should be avoided when possible as well.

Should I Avoid Microban?

I’m sure I’ll get some hate mail/comments for posting this and perhaps the Microban knee breakers might get their knickers in a twist but in my opinion (which I can’t stress enough is just my opinion…no I am not a scientist or a doctor or a chemist, so before you crawl up my tucus calling me an alarmist just chill out)… in my opinion, Microban is something to be avoided when possible.  Here are my reasons:

  1. We don’t even know what Microban actually is or whether our kids could ingest it by chewing on items containing it (pencils, pens, rulers – not to mention all of this stuff could possibly contain it).  Does it contain Triclosan?  We don’t know.  Maybe.
  2. Microban is most likely unnecessary.  It is an antimicrobial agent and as stated by the company who creates it say it “ protect products from bacteria, mold and in some cases algae that can cause stains, odors and product deterioration”. I think it just feeds into people’s paranoia about germs and nothing else.  I don’t think we’re all going to die if everything we own isn’t protected by Microban.

What Can I Do Instead?

Look for products without Triclosan or Microban.  This can get tough, especially with the number of items coming on the market containing them.  Stainless steel, bamboo, glass, ceramic are all materials that are usually safe from meddling by Microban.

Instead of focusing on the items in question, focus on practicing good hygiene and hand washing.  Teach kids to wash  their hands and to not put things in their mouth.  They still will but a little dirt and germs aren’t going to kill anyone.  Just do the best you can.  You’ll be fine.  Common sense is all we need… not more chemicals.

If Microban wants me as a consumer to trust their product, they’re going to have to tell me what it’s made of first.

Posted by: SafeMama Kathy on July 14, 2010


20 Responses to “Parents New Challenge: Banning Microban?”

  1. KeithTax on July 14th, 2010 8:06 pm

    I never paid any attention to Microban. My wife and I need to talk this over before buying school supplies this year. Even though I did not notice, I am concerned about unnecessary chemicals placed in products my kids could become contaminated with.

  2. Maggie on July 15th, 2010 12:24 am

    It just never seems to end..yet another thing to think about, try to avoid, etc..I want to protect my child as much as possible but it starts to get overwhelming to try and keep up with all of it.

  3. SafeMama Kathy on July 15th, 2010 1:43 am

    @Maggie: No one is denying that… believe me. It’s aggravating to say the least. I swear I’m not trying to nitpick every substance known to man, I just felt it was important enough to clear up the misconception that its protecting people from getting sick.

  4. Sara on July 15th, 2010 2:53 am

    I agree with Maggie. Sometimes it’s all so overwhelming. :( I feel like I have to be afraid of everything these days.

  5. Nicole on July 15th, 2010 7:05 am

    Interesting. I, like many people, was under the impression that Microban coated products made them more resistant to bacteria/viruses that cause diseases- ie, a child with a cold who uses a product with Microban is less likely to transfer their cold “germs” to the product and then onto the next user.

    I cannot understand why it would be on something such as a pencil. I would certainly appreciate some mold-resistant products (I live in Okinawa, Japan, where mold grows on ANYTHING!), but not sure that I want it in/on everyday things that my children are constantly using.

  6. SafeMama Kathy on July 15th, 2010 2:07 pm

    @Sara; I agree with her too. Please don’t think I find joy in writing about this stuff. I just aim to help people make the best decisions for their family. If Microban isn’t on your list of concerns then that is up to you to decide. Believe me, I understand the frustration more than you know. I got many questions via email regarding Microban so I felt it was time to address it. I think the marketing inaccuracies associated with it make deciding much harder on a parent.

  7. SafeMama Kathy on July 15th, 2010 2:10 pm

    @Nicole: Thanks for your comment – This was my main reason for bringing it to light. I think many of us (myself included) have a very inaccurate picture of what the product does. And hello in Okinawa! I think it’s so cool I have a reader so far away!

    My husband lived there for a year… he’s told me about the amount of rain/dampness. Crazy!

  8. Cristina on July 15th, 2010 2:34 pm

    Literally just walked in the door from Target and ended up buying a lunch bag for my daughter with Microban. Not a lot of choice. Thanks for this article. I think I might go return it now.

  9. SafeMama Kathy on July 15th, 2010 2:40 pm

    @Cristina: Yeah I know what you mean. Like I said, I don’t really know the ramifications since we don’t know what chemicals are used (triclosan?) so it’s hard to say. I am working on a Lunchbox Cheat Sheet that will include Microban free lunch box options. Hopefully that will help!

  10. Becky Su on July 15th, 2010 3:23 pm

    Isn’t this CRAZY? It is so frustrating that we need such heightened awareness about manufacturing processes everything to protect our families. The thing that concerns me more than knowing microban is in school supplies is that there is no law mandating product manufacturers disclose Microban as an ingredient (except in personal products).

    For example, Crocs shoes are suspected to contain Microban, although the company won’t disclose the components when asked. We still have Crocs in our family, but we try to wear them with socks to at least provide some barrier.

    It’s a mad, mad, mad world. My family tries to live as close to nature as possible, think happy thoughts, and have gratitude for the present moment.

    Kathy, Check out for cute lunch boxes. Thanks so much for your wonderful Web site!

  11. Diana on July 15th, 2010 3:31 pm

    Even more ridiculous, it is common in Texas for teachers to take all the school supplies, put them in a pile, and redistribute them. The reasoning escapes me. So the pencils, scissors, etc. that I buy will almost certainly not be used by my son. Apparently, I would have to buy a set for the pile, confiscate whatever supplies he is distributed from the pile, and then buy an acceptable set for him. ugh!

  12. SafeMama Kathy on July 15th, 2010 3:34 pm

    @Diana: What is the point of that? I’d be rather annoyed if I carefully selected my son’s school supplies only to have him end up with something someone else chose. I might have words with the teacher haha

  13. Emily on July 15th, 2010 3:58 pm

    Thanks for all the work and thot you put into your posts, SM, I’m grateful for the info, ideas, and your heart to help us all make wise choices for our families.

    Like many of your readers, I too can find it overwhelming to try protect my family from all that could and can harm them. However, I am so grateful to know in my heart that God is ultimately in control and that He watches over me and mine so much better than I ever could. No other fact helps me sleep better! And I know He’ll give me (and my husband) wisdom to wade thru the “sea” of often scary info out there and make good choices for our family.

    Thanks again, for for YOUR help!

  14. Andrea on July 15th, 2010 4:55 pm

    AEGIS Microbe Shield (in Keen footwear) – is this the same thing?!

  15. Victoria (Mommy Is Green) on July 15th, 2010 7:01 pm

    I never buy anything labeled Microban. Mostly because I don’t know what’s in it like you said. I agree that it’s just not necessary and hand washing is the best thing to do. :)

  16. SafeMama Kathy on July 15th, 2010 7:28 pm

    @Andrea: Looks like it. :\

  17. willowsprite on July 15th, 2010 8:08 pm

    Thanks for the information. I’m not buying school supplies yet (a couple of years to go) but I’m definately going to be on the lookout for plain old cotton canvas for bags, if they make them anymore. They’rebetter for the planet and last ten times longer than the toxic, character-plastered norm.

  18. Linda on July 16th, 2010 3:05 am

    Thank you so much for this information! Yes, yet another thing to look out for, but if it weren’t for people like you letting us readers know then we’d all be in the dark. So HUGE thanks! It is so frustrating that this is done though. It seems like manufacturers just try to sneak in as many chemicals as they can into just about anything we buy. I really don’t get this!

  19. Becky Su on July 20th, 2010 2:50 pm

    I found some scissors not labeled w/ Macroban at Walmart forr .75, but I decided to take old kid scissors and reuse them. I cleaned them and then sharpenened them with a kitchen knife sharpener. It worked much better than I thought, just be careful not to sharpen the outside of the blade though, just the insides, otherwise it creates a sharp edge where there isn’t spposed to be one. I couldn’t believe how sharp they are now!

    Diana, Our teachers sometimes do that here too. What I do is write my kids’ names on them in black perm marker and they usually get them back.

  20. Mikal on July 20th, 2010 7:52 pm

    Oh, the irony! I have never paid attention to microban, honestly never even really heard of it. Crud…just looked up Microban products on their site. Noticed Fellowes products have it in them. Glanced down at my mouse pad, that is Fellowes brand, and it says Microban right on it.