Soap and water is better than hand sanitiser at stopping infectious diseases, but only if you're using it right
- Generally, thoroughly washing your hands with soap and water can help stop the spread of potentially harmful germs better than using hand sanitiser can.
- But for best results, you should be washing your hands vigorously for at least 20 seconds, or to the tune of humming "Happy Birthday" twice, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
- But hand sanitiser is better than nothing if you are unable to wash your hands with soap and water. For maximum effectiveness, the hand sanitiser you use should be made up of at least 60% alcohol, per the CDC.
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Using hand sanitiser has become fairly common practice for those looking to quickly get their hands clean - after all, tiny bottles of these alcohol-based gels are easy to toss in your bag to use on-the-go when you can't wash your hands with soap and water.
But if you're looking for the best way to stop the spread of potentially harmful germs, properly washing your hands with soap and water is generally more effective than using hand sanitiser.
Generally, thoroughly washing your hands with soap and water can better prevent the spread of infectious diseases than using an alcohol-based hand sanitiser can
Keeping your hands clean can help keep you and others from getting sick because many infectious diseases are transmitted by indirect contact, such as touching inanimate objects that were also embraced by someone who is sick or who carries certain germs, explained Philip Tierno, clinical professor in the Department of Pathology at NYU Langone Health. When someone touches these potentially harmful germs and then comes in contact with their mouth, eyes, nose, or a break in their skin, they can get sick.
"On the whole, the best bet for the average person, under normal circumstances, is to wash their hands with soap and water," Tierno told INSIDER. He said this can generally prevent the spread of germs better than using hand sanitiser can.
He explained that soap and water can be more effective than alcohol-based hand sanitisers because some potentially harmful bacteria such as Clostridium difficile, a type of spore formation, are not killed by alcohol-based sanitisers although it can be washed off of one's hands with soap and water.
That said, for the best germ-fighting results you'll want to use soap and water correctly, meaning you want to focus on how long and how vigorously you're washing your hands, said Tierno.
"You should be washing your hands with soap and water to the sound of [the popular song] 'Happy Birthday' sung twice, one time after the other. That would be a sufficient wash," Tierno told INSIDER. This should add up to at least 20 seconds, which is how long the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC) recommends you wash your hands for.
In terms of germ-killing effectiveness, the type of soap and the temperature of the water you use doesn't matter as much - your main focus should be washing your hands for a long enough duration of time.
If you can't wash your hands with soap and water, using a hand sanitizer that's at least 60% alcohol is still better than nothing at all.
"When soap and water are not available, an alcoholic gel is recommended by the CDC as an alternative," said Tierno. In this case, the CDC recommends you use a hand sanitiser composed of at least 60% alcohol.
For a fairly effective clean using alcohol-based hand sanitiser, Tierno told INSIDER he recommends you put a large dollop of hand sanitiser in your palm and then vigorously rub your hands together.
"In the same way you'd wash your hands with soap and water, rub your hands together with hand sanitizer, getting in between your digits, scraping your hand and your open palm to get your nails just as you would to get a good wash with soap and water," he said, noting the final step is to let the sanitiser air dry.
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