Keeping your hands clean is an important step for preventing illness and stopping the spread of germs. After all, when dirty hands touch your eyes, nose and mouth, germs can enter your body and make you sick.
So, when it comes to protecting yourself from germs and contagious illnesses, which is better: washing your hands or using hand sanitizer? Explore the differences between the two and learn how to get the most out of hand washing and using hand sanitizer.
Does Hand Sanitizer Really Work?
The answer to this question is more complicated than you might think. The purpose of hand sanitizer is to kill germs on your hands. In order for this to happen, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends using hand sanitizer with ethyl alcohol concentrations of 60 to 90 percent for the most germ-killing action.
Still, the limitations of hand sanitizer are many:
- While it inactivates many types of microbes, hand sanitizer is not as effective as soap and water for removing certain germs, including those that cause cryptosporidiosis, norovirus and healthcare-associated infections.
- Hand sanitizer is less effective if your hands are dirty or greasy. It’s meant to inactivate germs, not wash away grime.
- Studies are limited, but the CDC tentatively concludes that hand sanitizer can’t remove harmful chemicals from your hands, including pesticides and heavy metals.
When and How to Use Hand Sanitizer
With all the limitations of hand sanitizer, it’s clear that hand washing with soap and water is superior. However, when you have no other option, hand sanitizer is the next best thing. It’s particularly useful in instances where germs get on your hands, but not soil or chemicals.
When using hand sanitizer:
- Remove as much dirt from your hands as possible.
- Apply a dime-sized amount to the palm of one hand and rub your hands together. Make sure the sanitizer reaches the backs of your hands and between your fingers.
- Keep rubbing until the liquid dries completely. Avoid wiping your hands on anything until the hand sanitizer has soaked in.
When to Wash Your Hands
It’s important to wash your hands often throughout the day, especially during cold and flu season. The CDC suggests you wash your hands:
- Before, throughout and after meal preparation
- Before eating
- Before and after caring for a sick person
- Before and after treating a wound or cut
- After going to the bathroom, changing a diaper or cleaning a child who has used the toilet
- After blowing your nose or coughing/sneezing into your hands
- After petting an animal, handling animal food/treats or cleaning up animal waste
- After touching garbage or taking out the trash
Proper Hand Washing Techniques
Washing your hands may seem like a basic task, but you’d be surprised how many people speed through the process and experience less desirable results. Take your time and follow these steps:
- Wet your hands under warm running water.
- Apply soap and rub your hands together. Lather the soap between your fingers, on the backs of your hands and under your nails.
- Scrub for at least 20 seconds. If you find counting to 20 rather boring, hum happy birthday to yourself two times for a fairly accurate timer.
- Rinse your hands under running water and remove all the soapy suds.
- Dry your hands on a clean towel or with a hand dryer. Your pants are not a clean surface to wipe your freshly washed hands!
Now that you’re a hand washing and hand sanitizer expert, you should have an easier time keeping germs and illness away. For more useful bathroom tips, please contact Mr. Rooter®.
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