Washing your hands with soap and water may be safer than using sanitizers. Here's why.

Our hands are like the universal tool in our lives. We use them for everything from carrying out daily activities to communicating with the people around us. Our hands come into contact with various surfaces daily at an unbelievable number which makes it all the more important that we pay attention to the importance of hand hygiene. Sure, keeping ourselves clean from head-to-toe should be top priority but we should also prioritize on keeping our hands clean to protect ourselves from the spreading of diseases-carrying germs. However, the abundance of sanitizers found in stores nowadays raises a question: does sanitizers work better than soap and water?

Are hand sanitizers really that good?

Hand sanitizers are a part of every pocket, purses, bags and any other personal storage these days - for a reason. The small size and convenience of sanitizers meant that one could just whip them out and sanitize their hands in seconds whenever and wherever. The simplicity and convenience that hand sanitizers offer meant that more people are obliged to disinfect their hands often when on the go which helps to reduce the likelihood of transmitting viruses. Add to the fact that it's one of the best go to options when soap and water aren't available and it's easy to see why people have embraced hand sanitizers. However, it's not all sunshine and rainbows with hand sanitizers as they do have their drawbacks. While hand sanitizers are effective against most bacteria and viruses, there are exceptions such as norovirus and the C. difficile bacteria, both of which causes diarrhea. Some sanitizers also leave a sticky residue that may be unpleasant for some users. Although the benefits of hand sanitizers far outweighs it's disadvantages, doctors still resort to washing their hands with soap and water.

Why don't doctors use hand sanitizers?

Simple answer: viruses are most effectively killed and removed from hands with soap and water. Health officials and medical professionals alike still maintain that the gold standard for maintaining proper hand hygiene is through proper and consistent washing of the hands. There's no getting away from the fact that soap and water are just more thorough in cleaning your hands. While hand sanitizers does kill certain viruses and bacteria on your hands, they simply do not remove the actual dirt and contamination on your hands the way washing your hands with soap and water does.

But what if soap and water aren't available?

In that case, you can still rely on hand sanitizers, just make sure they are up to the task. It's crucial to understand the contents of the hand sanitizer in order to determine it's effectiveness. Go for hand sanitizers containing at least 60% alcohol as it is proven that alcohol does kill viruses. Avoid using alcohol-free sanitizers as there is not enough sufficient data to support its effectiveness. An alternative to alcohol based hand sanitizers are those that contain an active ingredient called benzalkonium chloride, which also reduces bacteria and viruses although not as effective as an alcohol-based sanitizer. Interestingly, benzalkonium chloride is effective against norovirus but you're still better off with alcohol-based sanitizers when it comes to respiratory diseases such as the novel coronavirus.

The way you use either is critical

The bottom line is, no matter what you choose to clean your hands with, it all boils down to the techniques you use to wash your hands or when applying hand sanitizer. Even the best soap in the world is useless if you do not scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds when washing your hands. The same goes for hand sanitizers which require a three-step method. You first apply sanitizer liberally on your hands before rubbing your palms together to cover all areas of your hands, and you need to rub your hands until they are completely dry. As alcohol-based sanitizers work by breaking down the germs, you need to have them long enough on your hands for it to work, which is why you need to rub your hands until they are completely dry. Generally, the recommended exposure time for hand sanitizer on your hands is 20 seconds, which is similar to washing your hands with soap and water. Ultimately, actually taking time to disinfect your hands by either using soap and water or hand sanitizer consistently and correctly is the most effective way to curb the spread of infections. Therefore, it doesn't matter which side you choose, both are effective in their own way as long as you practice the right methods.

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