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Does Hand Sanitizer Work?

We all know how important it is to wash our hands before and after handling food and using the restroom. But when you're picnicking at a park, watching a kid's soccer game, or hiking the trails, soap and water might not be available.

“Plain old soap and water is the most effective way to wash your hands, but if it’s not accessible, hand sanitizer is a good alternative,” says Andrew Pavia, MD, Chief of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at University of Utah Health. He advises using hand sanitizers than contain at least 65% alcohol.

What about antibacterial soap?

Antibacterial soap is not better than plain soap and may actually cause some bacteria to develop resistance. It's best to wash for 20 seconds with plain old soap and water.

What is the right way to use hand sanitizer?

While hand sanitizers are a good alternative if you do not have access to soap and water, they do have limitations. "Hand sanitizers don't work as well if dirt or grease is visible," Pavia says. "They reduce the number of germs but don't eliminate them."

Like hand washing, there is a right way to use hand sanitizers. You need to apply the amount recommended on the label, then rub it on all parts of your hands—front, back and between fingers—until it has evaporated.