Airports, grocery stores, play areas… these are just a few of the places it’s common to see hand sanitizers whipped out and applied. At one time this mostly applied to cold and flu season, but in a post-coronavirus world it’s even more common. While it’s helping people stay healthy, today the big question remains: Does hand sanitizer cause antibiotic resistance and, in turn, create superbugs?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “There is no chance for the germs to adapt or develop resistance.” But, they also note that good old soap and water are better. Why is that?
Hand Sanitizers Versus Soap and Water
The CDC gives alcohol-based hand sanitizers a thumbs up, particularly when cleaning hands that don’t appear dirty (go for soap and water in the latter case). Not only do alcohol-based hand sanitizers kill deadly germs, they provide a way to clean hands when soap and water aren’t available.
Per the Global Handwashing Partnership (GHP), “Each year, approximately 525,000 children die from diarrheal diseases, making it one of the top killers of children globally. Almost all cases of diarrhea in children are caused by infections, which means that most of these deaths are entirely preventable. One of the most effective ways of preventing diarrheal diseases is handwashing with soap.”
The CDC concurs, stating, “Washing hands with soap and water is the best way to get rid of germs in most situations. If soap and water are not readily available, you can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. You can tell if the sanitizer contains at least 60% alcohol by looking at the product label.”
While sanitizers work well and can quickly reduce the number of germs on hands in many situations, there are some caveats. From the CDC:
- Sanitizers do not get rid of all types of germs.
- Hand sanitizers may not be as effective when hands are visibly dirty or greasy.
- Hand sanitizers might not remove harmful chemicals from hands like pesticides and heavy metals.
Bottom line? Wash those hands if you can, and if not then go to sanitizer. And if you don’t have sanitizer, this video shows how to many safe at-home hand sanitizer.
When to Wash Hands
The CDC recommends washing hands:
- After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing;
- After contact with an animal, animal feed, or animal waste;
- After handling pet food or pet treats;
- After touching garbage.
Handwashing Technique Makes a Difference
There’s an old adage that washing one’s hands should last the length of time it takes to sing Happy Birthday. Getting more specific, the CDC says to wash for “at least 15 seconds,” with 20 seconds being preferable. Key in the process is hitting specific areas: thumbs, fingertips and between fingers.
As for drying hands, the GHP advises, “Evidence indicates that wiping or drying hands with a towel or cloth can remove more germs not eliminated through handwashing. Air-drying does not have this benefit.”
Don’t have access to soap and water? Grab that travel-sized bottle of alcohol-based hand sanitizer from your backpack, purse or pocket and dollop away.