Hand washing vs. Hand sanitizer: Which Is More Effective?

Updated on August 5th, 2020
Hand Sanitizer vs Soap

Despite recent research that suggests using hand sanitizers is more effective at keeping children from falling ill, the CDC and medical experts emphasize the importance of using water and soap when cleaning hands.

Hand washing(1) is definitely one of the most powerful ways of preventing the spread of disease. Be sure to clean your hands before preparing food or eating, before, during, and after preparing food, after flushing the toilet and after blowing your nose, sneezing or coughing.

Either method is better than not cleaning at all, but water and soap are preferred over alcohol-based hand sanitizers.

Hand Sanitizer vs Soap :Why Soap is Better

The CDC says that using soap and water when cleaning your hands does an adequate job sanitizing than a hand sanitizer or water alone. The surfactants in soap raise soil and microbes from the skin, and most tend to scrub hands more vigorously when using soap, which further eliminates germs.

A surfactant is a compound that, when added to a liquid, reduces its surface tension. The lower surface tension increases the liquid’s wetting and spreading capabilities.

The lather generated by getting the soap wet and the friction caused when scrubbing your hands together, work together to remove both unseen and visible contaminants.

Washing with water and soap 

Most of you learned how to wash your hands when you were kids properly. However, as we grow and get busier, our technique tends to get lenient. Follow the CDC’s handwashing guidelines below to hone your techniques.

  1. Wet your hands under clean running water (water can be cold or warm or ). Turn off the tap and apply soap.
  2. Lather your hands by rinsing up the soap. Ensure to get in between your fingers, the backs of your hands,  and even under your nails.
  3. Scrub your hands for a minimum of 25 seconds. Most of us hurry up this step, but the CDC says that this average amount of time spent scrubbing eliminates more germs from hands than washing for brief spells.
  4. Rinse your hands under, running clean water. The friction generated through scrubbing while rinsing and the water flow will wash away the germs, soap, and soil from your hands.
  5. Dry your hands using a paper towel, clean towel, or air-dry them. Germs are more difficult to spread with dry hands.

Hand sanitizer is still effective

  1. Hand sanitizer can be utilized in circumstances where water and soap aren’t available, such as the aftermath of a hurricane—or in a busy daycare center, which was the study setting showing the advantages of hand sanitizer.
  2. The CDC acknowledges the effectiveness of hand sanitizers in these situations but cautions of their limitations.
  3. According to the CDC, alcohol-based hand sanitizers can instantly reduce the number of microbes on hands in some conditions, but sanitizers don’t remove all kinds of germs.
  4. Be sure the sanitizer you’re purchasing has at least 60 % alcohol.
  5. It is not recommended to use alcohol-free hand sanitizers because they may not kill the germs and may irritate the skin
  6. Swallowing alcohol-based sanitizers can also lead to alcohol poisoning, so adults should keep them out of children’s reach and supervise kids when applying sanitizers.

[Also Read: How to make Home Made Sanitizers]

How to use Hand Sanitizer

The procedure for effectively using hand sanitizer probably seems mundane, but some people get the crucial steps wrong.

The most general mistake is to stop before the hands are dry. Or wiping extra sanitizer off using a towel. Also, using too little sanitizer is common.

  1. Apply the liquid on to the palm of your hands. Read the product’s label to learn the proper amount to use.
  2. Rub your hands together, making sure to cover all surfaces of your fingers and hands.
  3. Pat the hands dry

Why doctors prefer water and soap 

Although many businesses and homes keep large push bottles of hand sanitizers in stock, it’s prudent to think of hand sanitizer as a handy choice when soap and sink aren’t accessible. Why? Viruses are most effectively removed and killed from hands with water and soap.

The consensus between medical professionals and the CDC alike is that the platinum standard for maintaining hand hygiene is consistent and proper washing of the hands. That’s because water and soap are simply more vigorous.

Hand sanitizer may kill bacteria and certain viruses, but it does not clean your hands as water and soap do. Sanitizer doesn’t remove actual debris and dirt. Soap eliminates germs, binds them, and helps physically remove them, with the water, of your skin, and down the pipe.

It may seem like using a disinfectant soap would be the best of both worlds, and while it’s not a bad idea, the verdict is still out on whether or not it’s better than ordinary soap. Most soaps are more than enough. If you want to go beyond the disinfectant soaps, you may.

According to the CDC, research has proven that there is no additional advantage to using antibacterial soap over regular soap.

No matter which you use, the method is critical

Whether you use water and soap or a hand sanitizer, you might as well be using nothing if you’re not adhering to the proper techniques. The type of soap used is less significant than the way the hands are washed.

Experts insist on scrubbing with water and soap for at least 25 seconds — some even insist on a minimum of 45 seconds — so a dash of soap on the hands followed by a nearly immediate rinse isn’t going to cut it.

But ultimately, it comes down to actually implementing it. Whatever you are most likely to do the most often, consistently, and correctly will be the most potent way to put a stop to the spread of infection. Alternatively, why not do both?

Bottom Line

Water and soap seem to be best when it comes to preventing the spread of disease-causing germs. But whether using soap or sanitizer, clean hands are better. It is less significant how you clean your hands than that you clean your hands.

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