Which Is Best: Hand Sanitizer or Soap and Water?

hand-sanitizer-or-soap-and-waterWhen you want to disinfect your hands fast, you may reach for a bottle of hand sanitizer. But how effective is hand sanitizer compared to washing your hands with soap and water?

Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can be used “in addition to” hand washing, but should not be used as a substitute for washing with soap and water.While alcohol-based hand sanitizers (particularly those with 60 percent alcohol or more) can reduce the number of some germs, a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveals that hand sanitizer doesn’t reduce the spread of some viruses such as the norovirus.

Hand Sanitizer How-To

Proper hand washing is best, but when soap and water aren’t available, hand sanitizers can be a substitute for on-the-go cleaning.

Important: Hand sanitizers are not effective if your hands are visibly dirty.

Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can reduce the number of germs on hands in some situations, but sanitizers do not eliminate all types of germs.

Always use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol. Here’s how to use hand sanitizer properly:

  1. Apply the product to the palm of one hand.
  2. Rub your hands together.
  3. Rub the product over all surfaces of your hands and fingers until your hands are dry.

Proper Hand Washing

For proper hand washing, all you need is 20 seconds and some soap and water. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Wet your hands with clean running water (warm or cold) and apply soap.
  2. Rub your hands together to make a lather and scrub them well; be sure to scrub the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
  3. Continue rubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum “Happy Birthday” from beginning to end twice.
  4. Rinse your hands well under running water.
  5. Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry.

© 2015 eatright.org. Reviewed by Wendy Marcason, RDN, a registered dietitian  nutritionist.