Parents New Challenge: Banning Microban?

By Kristie Turck •  Published 07/14/10 •  5 min read

Last updated on August 19th, 2013 at 01:23 pm

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.