Hand Washing vs. Hand Sanitizer

Colds and flu are in full swing right now and the number one thing you can do to protect yourself and stay healthier is to wash your hands often and correctly. So should you rely on the more commonly used hand sanitizers or soap and water to effectively clean your hands and protect from germs? And should you rely on sanitizer all the time to get the job done? Let’s look at the evidence suggested by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) so you can help your family make better decisions with hand washing choices to stay healthier.

First, washing hands with soap and water properly is the best way to clean your hands and reduce the number of germs. It’s also particularly important to wash your hands before and after key activities such as eating, using the bathroom, sneezing or coughing, or when your hands are visibly dirty. Data has shown that when hands are soiled or greasy, hand sanitizers may not work well and hand washing with soap and water is recommended. Encourage your kids to wash their hands often and set a good example by doing it yourself.

If soap and water are not available, then the CDC recommends the use of an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol as an effective substitute to clean your hands. Why is the 60% plus important? Studies have found that sanitizers with an alcohol concentration of 60–95% to be more successful at killing a wider array of germs. For the most effective use of an alcohol-based sanitizer, remember to use a large amount of the sanitizer to cover all areas of the hand and finger surfaces and rub your hands vigorously till they dry- do not wipe off the sanitizer.

Here at the hospital and in other health care settings, it is not recommended to use non-alcohol-based hand sanitizers, because they may not work as well for all classes of germs, can cause germ resistance to the sanitizing agent, and are more likely to irritate the skin. So is it safe and effective to use hand sanitizer? Yes, but remember the guidelines for using it and whenever possible there is no better substitute than soap and water. Stay vigilant in keeping those hands clean and you will enjoy a healthier and happier cold season.



  1. Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold) & apply soap.
  2. Rub your hands together to lather & scrub them well; get the backs of your hands, between your fingers, & under your nails.
  3. Continue rubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds (sing the ABCs).
  4. Rinse your hands well under running water.
  5. Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.