Hand Sanitizer 101
How effective is hand sanitizer in preventing disease? The answer may surprise you.
If you've visited a drug store lately, you probably noticed the empty shelves where hand sanitizers normally sit.
With the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, it's not surprising that many people are taking extra steps to stay safe, including stocking up on sanitizing sprays, gels and soaps. But are hand sanitizers the best defense against bacteria and viruses like coronavirus and influenza?
They're useful in the hospital, to help prevent the transfer of viruses and bacteria from one patient to another by hospital personnel. Beyond a hospital setting, it's very difficult to show that hand sanitizing products are useful.
Outside of the hospital most people catch respiratory viruses from direct contact with people who already have them, and hand sanitizers won't do anything in those circumstances. And they haven't been shown to have more disinfecting power than just washing your hands with soap and water.
The portable hand sanitizers do have a role during peak respiratory virus season [roughly November to April] because they make it much easier to clean your hands.
It's much more difficult when you sneeze to wash your hands than it is to use a hand sanitizer, especially when you are outdoors or in a car. The hand sanitizers are much more convenient, so they make it more likely that people will clean their hands, and that's better than not cleaning at all.
According to the Centers for Diseae Control (CDC), however, for hand sanitizer to be effective it must be used correctly. That means using the proper amount (read the label to see how much you should use), and rubbing it all over the surfaces of both hands until your hands are dry. Do not wipe your hands or wash them after applying.
It's important to make sure any hand sanitizer you do use contains at least 60 percent alcohol.
Studies have found that sanitizers with lower concentrations or non-alcohol-based hand sanitizers are not as effective at killing germs as those with 60 to 95 percent alcohol.
In particular, non-alcohol-based sanitizers may not work equally well on different types of germs and could cause some germs to develop resistance to the sanitizer.