Soap & water Vs. Hand sanitizer

Which one to use Hand sanitizer or soap water

In the current situation pharmacies and stores are shortage of hand sanitizers. Is hand sanitizer is better than soap water to maintain hygiene?

Clean hands protect us from falling sick. In this present COVID-19 outbreak health care specialists are asking people to keep hands clean either by washing hands often with soap water or to use hand sanitizers or both. When we step out if water is not available, we may have to carry hand sanitizers. Hand sanitizers are more portable and accessible when we have to step out and definitely will help to reduce virus transmission.

-According to CDC and experts the best way to keep germs away is hand washing with soap water as it reduces all types of germs in hands. Alcohol based hand sanitizers quickly reduce the microbes on hands. However, in some cases sanitizers do not eliminate all types of germs.   Hand sanitizer with minimum 60% alcohol will inactivate on certain germs and help to avoid getting sick as well as spreading germs.

-Microbiologists suggest that, soap and water are more effective in removing certain kind of germs and not hand sanitizers. It is also proven that scrubbing hands under warm water for 20-30 seconds will help to kill the germs.  For examples Cryptosporidium, Noroviurs and Clostridium difficile can be removed by using soap water. Hand sanitizers when used at right amount can inactivate microbes and quickly reduce the number of germs. However, they do not eliminate all types of microbes like the way soap and water do. People may not use sufficient amount/ volume of sanitizers or might wipe sanitizer before it dries off from the hand.

-Hand sanitizers are not effective when hands are visibly dirty or oily/greasy. In other words, hand sanitizers are not suitable for when we work in the garden- heavily soiled or cooking or automobile work – for greasy hands. People who handle foods, play sports, gardening work, camping and fishing should not relay on hand sanitizers as sanitizer does not clean hands. In such circumstances soap and water are highly recommended to maintain hygiene.

-We cannot use hand sanitizer to remove pesticide like chemicals. Hand sanitizer will not remove or inactivate harmful chemicals. In fact, alcohol-based hand sanitizer can react and retain the chemicals in the body. The best option to remove chemicals (like pesticide, herbicide and other types of chemicals like – fertilizers) is using soap or water or using solutions as directed by product label (poison control)

-When soap water is not available to wash hands, like when you step out of the house, then your best option is to use hand sanitizers with minimum 60% alcohol content. Sanitizers with 60-95% alcohol are effective in inactivating germs than the ones with lower level alcohol. FDA recommends using sanitizers with 95% ethanol or isopropanol.  Remember lower level of alcohol in hand sanitizers will not reduce growth of germs and will not work well on most germs. And, avoid alcohol free hand sanitizers as there is no data to show that they can inactivate or kill germs.

How often one should use soap and water to wash hands? Answer is, multiple times. CDC and other health agencies say washing hands multiple times a day is one way to reduce respiratory illness by 16-21%.  See hand wash tips -Click here

When and how to use hand sanitizer? If you are aware soap and water is not available where you are, then look for hand sanitizer and use it. Read the label for how much to use and apply the product to the palm of one hand. Rub your hands together and apply product all over hand surface, between fingers until your hands are dry. The entire hand sanitizing process should take 20 seconds.

Whether it is soap and water or hand sanitizer, ultimately it comes down to whether you are washing and cleaning your hands or not. Hands are the doors for germs. Maintaining hand hygiene is critical to stop falling sick and to prevent transmission of the diseases.


Author: Sumana Rao | Posted on: March 19, 2020

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