Which Is Best: Hand Sanitizer or Soap and Water?

Reviewed by Sarah Klemm, RDN, CD, LDN
Soap pump with hand - Hand sanitizer or soap and water?

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When you want to disinfect your hands fast, you may reach for a bottle of hand sanitizer. But how effective is hand sanitizer compared to washing your hands with soap and water?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), alcohol-based hand sanitizers can help reduce the amount of germs and bacteria on your hands, but they do not get rid of all types of bacteria. They may also be less effective if you have dirt, grease or other substances on your hands, so should not be used to replace hand washing.

If you choose to use hand sanitizers, use one with at least 60 percent alcohol and follow the CDC’s recommendations below.

Hand Sanitizer How-To

Proper hand-washing is best, but when soap and water aren't available, hand sanitizers can help keep your hands clean

  1. Check the label for how much to use and apply the product to the palm of one hand.
  2. Rub your hands together.
  3. Rub the product over all surfaces of your hands and fingers until your hands are dry, about 20 seconds..

Proper Hand Washing

Washing hands with soap and water is especially important if your hands are visibly dirty or if you have or are around certain types of germs, such as Norovirus.

  1. Wet your hands with clean running water and apply soap.
  2. Rub your hands together, lathering and scrubbing well; be sure to scrub the backs of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails.
  3. Continue rubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds. This is about the time it takes to hum or sing "Happy Birthday" from beginning to end twice.
  4. Rinse your hands well under running water.
  5. Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry.
Always clean hands before, during and after preparing food or before eating. Hands should also be cleaned after using the bathroom or changing a diaper, after touching an animal or cleaning up their waste, after handling garbage, before and after treating wounds, after coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose and before and after working with someone who is sick.

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