Why Hand Sanitizer Isn’t a Replacement for Handwashing

Benefits of handwashing and hand sanitizer

Handwashing is the best way to keep your hands germ-free.

Hand sanitizer stations have popped up all over the place and many of us also keep pocket-sized sanitizers on us or in our cars. These hygiene helpers come in different scents and make it really easy to quickly clean our hands, especially after touching possibly contaminated surfaces, like doorknobs or countertops.

But is hand sanitizer all you need to stay germ-free? The answer might surprise you.

Hand sanitizer and handwashing are a team.

The CDC recommends using sanitizer that contains a minimum of 60% alcohol as a temporary solution when handwashing isn’t available. Think of it as a way to reduce the number of germs on your hands until you can wash them with soap and water. When you’re visiting a friend, shopping at a store, or otherwise busy with an errand or task, hand sanitizer is a real lifesaver and is quite effective at killing most common bacteria and viruses.

However, hand sanitizer isn’t as effective as handwashing. While hand sanitizer kills many common germs, handwashing physically removes 99% of germs from your skin. This reduces exposure and removes some types of bacteria and viruses that hand sanitizer can’t kill. It’s also important to remember that handwashing also removes dirt, chemicals, and other contaminants that hand sanitizers can’t.

Overall, think of hand sanitizer as a temporary solution for contaminated hands and always follow up with proper handwashing as soon as you can.

Effective Hand Sanitizer Use and Handwashing Habits

When you do use hand sanitizer you want to remember to:

  • Use a product with a minimum of 60% alcohol.
  • Apply liberally so all surfaces of your hands are covered.
  • Rub together for 20 seconds or until dry.
  • Always allow air drying — do not rinse or wipe your hands.

When you’re ready to wash your hands, keep these things in mind:

  • Always use soap — even plain soap is effective.
  • Lather soap and scrub all surfaces of your hands.
  • Pay special attention to fingers and under nails.
  • Scrub and work the soap on your hands for a full 20 seconds.
  • Rinse with running water and dry with a clean towel or air dry.

Be sure to wash your hands or use hand sanitizer if washing isn’t an option:

  • After using the bathroom, changing diapers, or helping a child use the bathroom.
  • Before and after cooking (and also during, if handling raw meat) and before eating.
  • After interacting with pets, pet food, or pet toys that may be dirty.
  • After handling garbage, recycling, and associated receptacles.
  • After handling cash, coins, or your credit card (10-15% have fecal matter present!)

By following these guidelines and practicing thorough handwashing you can reduce your chances of catching many common illnesses by up to 50%. Even respiratory disease can be prevented by as much as 20% just through handwashing.

Dr. Sexton and the team continue to care for your health in our office.

We follow strict hygiene protocols to ensure our office and exam rooms meet and exceed expectations for sanitization. We also continue to pre-screen our patients before their appointments to maintain a healthy, safe environment for everyone. You can learn more by calling our office or using this online form.