Mar 09, 2020 9:00 AM

Hand Sanitizer Vs. Soap & Water

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.

Is hand sanitizer just as effective? Andrew Pavia, MD, University of Utah Health pediatric infectious disease specialist, provides some insight.

What About Antibacterial Soap?

If soap and water are good, isn't antibacterial soap better?

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.

Andrew Pavia, MD

The Right Way to Use Hand Sanitizers

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. They reduce the number of germs but don’t eliminate them,” Pavia says.

“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.” 

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