The COVID-19 pandemic initially led to a surge in hand sanitizer purchasing. People flocked to stores to grab all the hand sanitizer they could, trying to guarantee they'd have plenty on hand in case more wasn't made. This panicked behavior aside, it’s clear why people did this – because hand sanitizer is the best choice for getting rid of germs on your hands. Right?
Well, not exactly.
In truth, while hand sanitizer is very potent and a great choice for short-term germ removal (up to 99% effective, in the words of most advertisers), it's not an actual replacement for soap and water.
Furthermore, some types of germs and bacteria are resistant to the ways hand sanitizers can sterilize your hands.
So, how effective is hand sanitizer, and when should you use it in lieu of soap and water? Let’s break it down.
First Things First – What Kills Germs?
According to the CDC, the best thing to use to get rid of germs and totally clean your hands is soap and water. Period.
There are a few big reasons for this, but the most pertinent of all is the fact that soap can quickly and effectively break down the cellular walls used by bacteria and viruses. This essentially neutralizes cells harmful to your body and keeps you clean. Add some hot water on top of that and you create an environment that’s detrimental to harmful bacteria.
In fact, this method is so effective that the CDC recommends you use soap and water first and foremost whenever possible. Hand sanitizer can be effective, but it’s not nearly as so as soap and water
Still, hand sanitizer can be a good choice and it clears away germs in a slightly different way.
In a nutshell, the alcohol present in hand sanitizer can kill germs and bacteria and dry up harmful cells, as well as cause other physical damage.
So, is Hand Sanitizer Effective at All?
Absolutely. While the CDC does say that hand sanitizer should be used as a secondary cleaning method next to soap and water, it’s still far better than nothing at all. Hand sanitizer has additional benefits that can make it an effective sterilizing solution for your needs. These include:
- Hand sanitizer is portable and easy to take with you. Because of this, it’s a good cleaning solution when soap and water when neither of the two is readily available.
- Hand sanitizer is faster to apply. The CDC recommends you spend at least 20 seconds thoroughly washing your hands with soap and water if you want to get rid of as much bacteria as possible. Hand sanitizer can be applied in half the time, making it a good emergency sterilization measure.
- Hand sanitizer may not irritate your hands as much as washing very frequently soap and water, which is why even medical professionals will regularly sanitize their hands during normal duties and save soap and water for serious procedures or medical incidents.
All in all, hand sanitizer is extremely effective when used properly and in the right context. You shouldn’t try to replace soap and water with hand sanitizer overall, but feel free to use hand sanitizer when soap and water isn’t readily available to wash your hands.
What’s a Good Example of Hand Sanitizer?
Of course, there are good and bad examples of hand sanitizer, and hand sanitizer that’s too weak to get the job done isn’t very effective at all.
In fact, you only want to target hand sanitizer products that contain at least 60% alcohol; this concentration is required to guarantee a certain level of antibacterial effectiveness.
Dr. Brite’s Unscented Hand Sanitizer is one of the best choices on the market so far. This is partially because it’s unscented, which means it doesn’t contain any additional allergens or potentially toxic elements that could make your skin irritable or set off an allergic reaction.
It’s also particularly potent, even compared to other hand sanitizer products. It contains 70% isopropyl alcohol, plus hydrogen peroxide and other essential oils to provide antimicrobial and antibacterial benefits. All of these combined can turn the surface of your skin into an anti-germ zone where it’s difficult, if not impossible, for the bacteria to settle, so long as the hand sanitizer is still working.
You can also get this hand sanitizer in several different sizes, ranging from keychain sized hand sanitizer to a 1-gallon jug of hand sanitizer. That option is a particularly good choice if you need to purchase a lot of hand sanitizer for your office, clinic, or other workplace and don’t want to burn through a smaller bottle of the stuff too quickly. You can even purchase a gallon-size pump attachment if you don’t want to have to redistribute the hand sanitizer into smaller dispensers.
When to Use Hand Sanitizer and Soap and Water
Knowing how to properly wash your hands and effectively use hand sanitizer is critical if you want to maximize efficacy. Here’s a breakdown.
Use soap and water:
- When you can spare up to 20 seconds to thoroughly scrub the surface of your hands
- To make sure that you scrub between your fingers, and get a little bit of soap under your fingernails, for maximum effectiveness
Use hand sanitizer:
- When you need to sanitizer sterilize your hands quickly and don’t have the time to thoroughly wash them with soap
- When you may need to wash your hands on the go or when soap and water are not readily available. Thus, sanitizer is a great choice for travel safety!
As you can see, both types of cleaning solutions are important and necessary for protection. In light of COVID-19, it’s more important than ever that people use both hand sanitizer and soap and water to their maximum effectiveness to ensure they don’t spread diseases to their friends and family, or to themselves.
When to Not Use Hand Sanitizer
There are some instances when hand sanitizer should be avoided. Here are a few examples:
- When your hands are visibly dirty and greasy. Hand sanitizer will not be effective if there are physical elements or debris blocking the solution from reaching your skin. In these cases, it may be better to wash your hands before applying sanitizer. Otherwise, any germs beneath the dirt, grease, or other debris will be unaffected by the sanitizing solution.
- When you need to clean off harmful chemicals, such as heavy metals and pesticides. Hand sanitizer does nothing to take care of these particular issues, and it's not overly cleaning in any event. Again, use soap and water for these instances.
Ultimately, hand sanitizer is much more effective compared to not using anything at all, but it's not a full-on replacement for soap and water. Furthermore, overall hand sanitizer effectiveness is dictated both by the type of sanitizer you use and how well you use the sanitizer.
Make sure that you pick up a great hand sanitizer product, like the variety of hand sanitizers made by Dr. Brite, and use the sanitizer as optimally as possible to lower your risk of contracting or spreading a disease. Stay safe!