We all know how important it is to wash our hands to prevent the spread of germs that can make us sick. And most of us probably have some hand sanitizer either in a purse, gym bag, on our desk, or somewhere accessible in the office. Keeping our hands clean is an essential first line of defense when it comes to keeping us and everyone around us healthy, especially during cold and flu season.
In the great debate between hand sanitizer and hand soap, there is a clear winner but not necessarily a loser. Both products can help keep our hands clean, so long as we use them often and do so with the right technique. Yes, there is a proper technique for using both soap and sanitizer. The final decision between hand soap and hand sanitizer comes down to this: one does more to remove bacteria than the other.
Hand sanitizer can be found virtually everywhere these days, but especially in places where there will be a significant amount of contact with potentially contaminated surfaces. Schools, public libraries, subway stations, airports, hospitals, and many places of work will provide access to hand sanitizer. Using hand sanitizer can help reduce the spread of germs that might make us sick. The best hand sanitizer isn’t necessarily one that smells better or comes in a cute bottle. For hand sanitizer to be most effective, it must contain at least 60% alcohol, ideally somewhere in the range of 60-70% will provide the most health benefit. To properly use hand sanitizer, apply about a dime-sized amount to your hands and rub thoroughly between your palms, between your fingers and along to the ends and over the backs of the hands, until hands are dry.
Hand sanitizer is a great on-the-go solution, so long as our hands are not covered in grime or grease, in which case hand sanitizer is not effective. And for removing harsh chemicals, a simple sanitizer will not be effective. You may have heard suggestions that hand sanitizer is actually dangerous because the alcohol kills off some of the good bacteria on our hands. However, research has shown that the good bacteria lost is minimal, especially when we consider the consequences of skipping cleaning our hands at all. Hand sanitizer is most effective in preventing the viruses that cause colds and flu, but not effective in preventing the spread of bigger bugs, like norovirus. For the most effective cleaning of our hands, you’ll need to find some soap.
While hand sanitizer is a good alternative and easy to access, hand soap is the best and most effective hand washing method. Washing with soap and water, either warm or cold, does the best job of removing dirt and germs, especially if your hands are covered in grime and grease. A thorough and vigorous scrub with well-lathered soap all over our hands, fingers, and under the fingernails will provide the most cleaning potential. And just as with hand sanitizer, hand washing has its proper technique as well.
To wash your hands well, start with wet hands and soap, rubbed into a lather and thoroughly rubbed all over the hands for a period of 20 seconds. A helpful hint for counting to 20 seconds is to sing the “Happy Birthday” song. Rinse your hands with water and dry thoroughly with a dry towel. If no towels are available, then air-drying is recommended (don’t use your pants as a towel), as wet hands that come into contact with contaminated surfaces are likely to pick up germs. To prevent the spread of germs, it’s important that we wash our hands before handling food, after using the bathroom, after blowing our noses or coughing into our hands, or after coming into contact with a contaminated surface.
If you’re looking for a clear loser in the hand sanitizer vs hand soap debate, then look to antibacterial hand soap for your answer. Studies have suggested that the use of antibacterial soap does more to enable the growth of antibiotic-resistant bugs than it does to prevent them. And of course, all hand washing in any form should not be done excessively. Dry skin is more susceptible to bacteria and is physically uncomfortable.
If you’re one to skip washing your hands after going to the bathroom, or to blow your nose and then touch a doorknob, we hope you’ll take into consideration how those dirty hands contribute to the spread of germs and bacteria that could make the next person you come into contact with sick. Clean hands will help keep everyone, including yourself, healthy and happy.