Hand Hygiene is described as the single most significant tool used in restricting/preventing the spread of many contagious diseases from one individual to another. Before the advent of hand-sanitizers, we used to rely only upon soaps (with water) to ensure hand hygiene. But now, many prefer hand-sanitizers over soaps to safeguard themselves from infectious micro-organisms and so hand- sanitizers have now become a favorite hygiene option among us. But are they more safe and effective than soaps? Before answering this question, let’s briefly explore hand-sanitizers and soaps.

HAND-SANITIZERS: They are broadly classified into two types: Alcohol-based hand-sanitizers and Alcohol-free hand-sanitizers. Studies portray that alcohol-based sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol concentration are more effective in killing microbes than those with a lower alcohol concentration or no alcohol present. When the alcohol content in the hand-sanitizer is low, the germs are not completely killed and there is a possibility that they develop resistance to sanitizing. The sanitizers that we buy should not contain triclosan– a synthetic element added to antibacterial products. Triclosan reduces the thyroid hormone levels in our body eventually making bacteria resistant to antibiotics. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommends us to apply hand-sanitizers (amount as mentioned in the label) to the palm of one hand and rub it all over the surfaces of our hands until our hands get dried.

SOAPS: Using soap and water is a time-honored tradition of washing hands. Soap and water cannot actually kill the microbes, but they can remove all the microbes and other particles. Soaps used are of two types: Regular soaps and Antibacterial Soaps. Antibacterial soaps are slightly effective than regular soaps but the difference seen is insignificant. Studies claim that preferring normal soaps is better than antibacterial soaps since antibacterial soaps enable the microbes to develop resistance. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommends us to wash hands using soap and water with around 20 seconds of scrubbing.

It is clear that generally, sanitizers can kill germs while soaps can remove them. Since hand-sanitizers can only kill germs, they cannot remove dirt, chemicals, pesticides, and heavy metals and in such cases using soap and water is highly preferable. Soap and water cannot be used in laboratories, health clinics, food service industries, and other sterile environments and in such circumstances hand-sanitizers are really helpful. According to the CDC, washing hands with soap and water should be considered as the first option and alcohol hand-sanitizers (with at least 60% alcohol concentration) should be used only in situations where soap and water cannot be used. This is because hand-sanitizers cannot kill certain types of microbes and swallowing alcohol-based hand-sanitizers can cause alcohol poisoning.  Apart from these, the way we wash our hands (as recommended) is more significant than the type of hand hygiene method we prefer. Hence, it is mandatory to master the skill of handwashing to ensure improved hand-hygiene.

“Hand Hygiene is arguably our most important life skill. So teach it well and teach it often”- Michael J Blackburn


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