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Does Hand Sanitizer Work?

Dec. 22, 2022

We can help stop the spread of COVID-19 by regularly washing our hands with soap and water for 20 seconds - especially after using the toilet, before eating, and after coughing, sneezing, or blowing our nose. If soap and water are not available, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with an alcohol content of at least 60% to help prevent you from getting sick and spreading germs to others.


Rub the hand sanitizer all over your hands, making sure to get it between your fingers and on the back of your hands. Do not wipe or rinse off the hand sanitizer until it has dried. If your hands are visibly dirty or greasy, do not use hand sanitizer; wash your hands with soap and water.


If you use a hand sanitizer containing alcohol, keep these safety tips in mind.

Hand Sanitizer Spray

1. Handwash kills germs but doesn't clean hands

Soap and water are effective when it comes to controlling infections, but believe it or not, soap and water do not kill bacteria; the effectiveness of the two comes down to hand-washing techniques.


Infection prevention expert Maryanne McGuckin explains that soap rubbing and scrubbing between the palms and fingers creates friction that breaks down the structure of bacteria and dislodges them from the skin. Hospital and healthcare-associated infections. When you wash your hands underwater, you flush these bacteria down the drain.


On the other hand, hand sanitizers containing alcohol do kill bacteria on the skin - or at least most of them. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that hand sanitizers are less effective at killing Cryptosporidium, norovirus, and Clostridium difficile, all of which can cause diarrhea. However, scientists suspect that hand sanitizer does kill coronaviruses.


Hand sanitizers will also not work if your hands are visibly dirty or greasy, and they may not remove harmful chemicals such as pesticides and heavy metals like lead.

 FDA Approved Hand Sanitizer

  FDA Approved Hand Sanitizer

2. In some cases, sanitizers are better than soap and water

Because proper hand washing is better at removing germs and dirt, hand sanitizers should be used as a backup to soap and water in most situations. Elaine Larson, professor emeritus of epidemiology at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health and scholar in residence at New York University, says, "When you can't find a sink, clean water, and a clean towel, it's time to use hand sanitizer." York Medical School.


That said, the CDC recommends hand sanitizer as the first choice in certain situations, such as before and after visiting a friend or loved one in a hospital or nursing home. (That's why you'll often see dispensers taped directly to the outside of wards.) A spray of hand sanitizer on the way in and out can reduce the likelihood of you introducing dangerous bugs or taking them away with you. Larson says it's also a good idea to use hand sanitizer regularly when interacting with people who have weakened immune systems.

Gel Hand Sanitizer

 Gel Hand Sanitizer

3. Not all hand sanitizers are created equal

To kill most disease-causing bacteria, the CDC recommends using a hand sanitizer with an alcohol content of at least 60 percent. The CDC says that if this level is not reached, it may not be effective "for many types of bacteria" and "will only reduce the growth of bacteria, not kill them completely".


When searching the shelves, you may find hand sanitizers that contain benzalkonium chloride rather than alcohol. However, the CDC does not recommend these products because "available evidence suggests that benzalkonium chloride is less active against certain bacteria and viruses than alcohol-based sanitizers".


4. Sanitising techniques are important

Hand sanitizers work best when used correctly. Apply the recommended amount to the palm of your hand (make sure it is enough to cover the entire surface of your hands) and distribute the sanitiser evenly, paying particular attention to your fingertips "as this is where you will come into contact with most other things.


Continue rubbing the hand sanitizer into your hands until your skin is completely dry - which takes about 20 seconds. This step is crucial.


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