How effective is hand sanitizer in your daily chores? The answer may surprise you.
In my job as a dietitian, a hospital, total protected outfit, and sanitation are a must before entering the facilities: proper handwashing and hand sanitizer.
But nowadays, If you’ve visited a drug store lately, you probably noticed the empty shelves where hand usually sanitizers sit.
With the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, it’s not surprising that many people are taking extra steps to stay safe, including stocking up on sanitizing sprays, gels, and soaps. But are hand sanitizers the best defense against bacteria and viruses like coronavirus and influenza?
Companies that market these products (which are sometimes labeled “antibacterial” or “antimicrobial”) say yes. But some consumer advocates say no, arguing that they aren’t effective and have the potential to engender bacterial strains that resist antibiotics.
As it turns out, the best answer is to take a common-sense approach.
How useful are hand sanitizes?
They’re useful in the hospital, to help prevent the transfer of viruses and bacteria from one patient to another by hospital personnel. Beyond a hospital setting, it’s complicated to show that hand sanitizer products are useful.
Outside of the hospital, most people catch respiratory viruses from direct contact with people who already have them, and hands won’t do anything in those circumstances. And they haven’t been shown to have more disinfecting power than just washing your hands with soap and water.
The portable hand sanitizer in demand during peak respiratory virus season [roughly November to April] because they make it much easier to clean your hands.
It’s much more difficult when you sneeze to wash your hands than it is to use a hand sanitizer, especially when you are outdoors or in a car. The hand sanitizes much more convenient, so they make it more likely that people will clean their hands, and that’s better than not cleaning at all.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), however, for hand sanitizer to be effective, it must be used correctly. That means using the proper amount (read the label to see how much you should use), and rubbing it all over the surfaces of both hands until your hands are dry. Do not wipe your hands or wash them after applying.
Are all hand sanitizers created equal?
It’s essential to make sure any hand sanitized you do use contains at least 60 percent alcohol.
Studies have found that sanitizers with lower concentrations or non-alcohol-based hand sanitizers are not as effective at killing germs as those with 60 to 95 percent alcohol.
In particular, non-alcohol-based sanitizes may not work equally well on different types of germs and could cause some bacteria to develop resistance to the sanitized.
Are hand sanitizes and other antimicrobial products bad for you?
There is no proof that alcohol-based hand sanitizers and other antimicrobial products are harmful.
They could theoretically lead to antibacterial resistance. That’s the reason most often used to argue against using hand sanitizer. But that hasn’t been proven. In the hospital, there hasn’t been any evidence of resistance to alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
However, while there aren’t any studies showing that hand sanitizes pose a threat, there also isn’t any evidence that they do a better job of protecting you from harmful bacteria than soap.
So while hand sanitizer has their place — in hospitals or when you can’t get to a sink — washing with soap and warm water is almost always a better choice.
When to avoid hand sanitizer
You should always clean with soap and water if your hands are visibly dirty, or if you’ve touched chemicals.
When hands are heavily soiled or greasy — such as after playing outdoor sports or working at a construction site — the CDC cautions that hand sanitizes may not work well at all.
Benefits of soap and water
Whenever you can, just wash your hands — for at least 20 seconds — with non-bacterial soap and warm water.
The CDC says soap and water are more effective than hand sanitizes at removing specific types of germs. They also do a better job of preserving the flora, or “good” bacteria, on your hands.
Your whole body covered with bacteria, and if you remove those good bacteria, it could be by other, potentially harmful bacteria. Natural bacteria are there for a reason.
The best defense: cleanliness
Do you like your room? Do you like your bathroom? How about your phone? There’s a good chance all of these things need to clean. It’s not necessary to use antimicrobial products: The important thing is to keep everything clean regularly.
On the other hand, some people are concerned about hygiene to an extreme extent. We try to assure them that if they do the usual things like practicing good hygiene — rather than taking extraordinary measures — they’ll be fine.