We’re all (hopefully) using hand sanitizer these days. But it’s important to use hand sanitizer correctly! Rather than treating hand sanitizer as a wholesale replacement for scrubbing your hands with soap and water, it’s better to think of hand sanitizer as a portable and convenient tool you can use to supplement your regular hand washing regimen.
If you use hand sanitizer correctly - see also 'Keychain Sanitizers for Trick or Treaters' - you’ll be a lot safer and can help avoid spreading the coronavirus to your family or friends. Let’s break down how you can use hand sanitizer properly and when you should use hand sanitizer instead of soap and water.
How Does Hand Sanitizer Work?
Hand sanitizer works only because of its primary and active ingredient: alcohol. Hand sanitizers can be made with either ethyl alcohol or isopropyl alcohol, and either variety works just fine even if there are a few differences between them.
Without getting too technical, the shape and unique properties of alcohol as a molecule allow it to “denature” cellular walls. This means that most types of harmful bacteria and viruses are destroyed when they come into physical contact with any amount of alcohol.
By rubbing hand sanitizer on your hands, you make it almost impossible for most types of bacteria to survive. This includes the coronavirus.
However, hand sanitizer is only really effective if you use it correctly. So let’s break down how you can do just that.
How to Use Hand Sanitizer Effectively
Fortunately, the CDC and the FDA both have lots of guidelines about the proper use of hand sanitizer.
They stress that, while hand sanitizer is definitely a useful product for most people to take advantage of, you shouldn’t use it as a full replacement for soap and water. That’s because, for all of its benefits, hand sanitizer is still not quite as good at destroying bacteria and viruses as soap and water.
There are a few types of bacteria, like the norovirus, that feature cell walls that are resistant to the damage alcohol causes. On the other hand, the abrasive and alkaline nature of soap molecules is good enough to kill 99.999% of germs and bacteria, making soap and water the best sanitizing solution bar none.
Still, it’s important to use hand sanitizer correctly if soap and water aren’t available. You should:
- Only use a little bit of hand sanitizer for both your hands. Since modern hand sanitizer products are made with a gel base, you should be able to spread plenty of the solution between both hands with only a few moderately sized drops.
- Store your hand sanitizer in a cool and dry place. That’s because hand sanitizer can eventually expire due to alcoholic evaporation. This lowers the concentration of alcohol inside a hand sanitizer bottle and makes it less effective.
- Only use hand sanitizer with an alcohol concentration of 60% or greater. This means that there’s enough ethyl or isopropyl alcohol to effectively kill the majority of germs and bacteria on any applied surface. If the hand sanitizer doesn’t have this much alcohol, it’s not nearly as effective and should be skipped over.
- Use hand sanitizer before and after visiting anyone who’s in a hospital or nursing home, and especially if they are sick.
To appropriately apply hand sanitizer:
- Rub your hands together until they start to feel dry. For most hand sanitizer products, this will take around 20 seconds. Isopropyl alcohol products, like the kind offered by Dr. Brite, may take only up to 15 or so seconds since isopropyl alcohol dries more quickly but does not leave your skin feeling overly dry.
When to Use Hand Sanitizer
Of course, knowing how to use hand sanitizer is only useful if you also know when to use it for maximum effectiveness.
- Try to use hand sanitizer anytime you come into contact with commonly touched surfaces or objects. Doorknobs, countertops, TV remotes, and similar objects are all great examples. Apply a little hand sanitizer to your hands when you touch these objects or surfaces and are planning to head somewhere else or go home
- Similarly, apply hand sanitizer whenever you come home from a day at work or from visiting friends and family members. This will prevent you from spreading any germs you might have picked up throughout the day (though hand washing is preferred if you can!)
- Apply some hand sanitizer before and after cleaning a wound or treating an injury. Alcohol-based products have been used in this way for centuries because alcohol reduces the possibility of infection.
Basically, any time when it might take too long to use soap and water (or if soap and water are unavailable for whatever reason, like if you're hiking) is a great time to use hand sanitizer instead. Remember, hand sanitizer might not be quite as effective as soap and water, but it’s much better than not doing anything and letting bacteria sit on your hands to be spread from surface to surface.
Try not to apply too much hand sanitizer, however. Doing so could easily dry out your hands. In most cases, applying hand sanitizer once every hour or two is more than enough.
When Not to Use Hand Sanitizer
As mentioned above, soap and water is a much better alternative to hand sanitizer if you can access both materials. Soap and water are simply more effective at killing most types of bacteria. The primary advantage of hand sanitizer is its portability and ease of application.
But there are times when you should avoid using hand sanitizer:
- When you are about to prepare food.You should never consume alcohol-based sanitizer, and it's possible to accidentally do this if you sanitize your hands and then immediately handle food you are about to eat
- When you need to clean away grease, heavy metals, pesticides, and other contaminants.Alcohol-based sanitizers are only good at destroying certain types of bacteria and viruses. Sanitizer does very little to clear away physical contaminants, like heavy metals. Soap and water should be used instead
- When your hand sanitizer is expired.When hand sanitizer expires, its alcohol concentration is no longer at the advertised level. This means that you can no longer rely on its ability to cleanse your hands or other surfaces. Soap and water, again, are a much better alternative
Here’s the bottom line. Hand sanitizer is a great choice if you don’t have access to soap and water at the moment. But soap and water should be used whenever possible since that method offers more comprehensive bacterial cleaning than even the best hand sanitizer.
Still, it’s worthwhile to purchase excellent hand sanitizer products so you are never left unprotected from bacteria and viruses. Try Dr. Brite’s unscented or other hand sanitizer products if you don’t already have a small personal bottle you can use for your everyday activities.
All in all, hand sanitizer is a tool. It’s only effective so long as we use it properly, in the right amounts, and in the right circumstances. No one wants to be one of those people that drinks hand sanitizer in an attempt to get rid of the common cold!
It’s a good thing the guidelines for hand sanitizer use are pretty straightforward. Be sure to contact us if you have other questions, and don’t hesitate to look at our online catalog of isopropyl alcohol-based hand sanitizer products.
1. How often should I use hand sanitizer?
Although there is no specific answer for how often you should use hand sanitizer, you should always keep it with you. Depending on your level of exposure to germs, you may want to use it more often than others. For example, if you are a sanitation worker or work in a hospital, you will need to use hand sanitizer more often than someone who works in an office. Another good practice is to use hand sanitizer before eating. If you are eating outside of your home (or anywhere germs are likely to be) use hand sanitizer to kill any germs you might have picked up. This will keep you from getting sick.
2. Is it safe to use hand sanitizer on my hands?
Hand sanitizers are effective in killing germs on hands, but all sanitizers are not equally good. Use alcohol-based sanitizers because they are the most efficient. Hand sanitizers can be used effectively by the number of people who use them regularly. Longterm use has not been proven safe for kids under three, so keep it away from them. Using hand sanitizers all the time may not be the best idea because they kill good bacteria on hands too. Once you start using sanitizers, the skin on your hands becomes more dry and some people using hand sanitizers have reported skin problems.
3. What are the benefits of using hand sanitizer?
When washing hands isn't possible, hand sanitizers can be effectively used to clean hands and reduce the level of bacteria on the hands. Hand sanitizer kills most of the bacteria on hands and can provide a large benefit to users with immune system problems and for health care workers.
4. Are there any risks associated with using hand sanitizer?
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that, of the millions of people who use hand sanitizers, some have reported irritation of the skin or eyes, breathing issues, diarrhea, nausea, dizziness, fatigue, rashes, headaches, burning sensations, or skin allergies. Sanitizers containing alcohol can cause skin dryness, and sanitizers containing oil can cause allergies. No deaths have been caused by the use of hand sanitizers.
5. Is it okay to use hand sanitizer if I have a cold or the flu?
Yes, it is. Using proper hand hygiene reduces your chances of spreading germs, even if you have a cold or the flu. You should always wash your hands with soap and water. Hand sanitizers are great for killing germs, but you should still use soap and water, too. You can use hand sanitizer to clean your hands if you don’t have access to soap and water. However, you should make sure to follow up with regular soap and water. If hand sanitizers are your only defense against germs, you’re much more likely to get sick. If your hands are not visibly dirty or sticky, there is no need to use hand sanitizer.