One of the most important health and safety rules and integral part of personal hygiene is to wash one’s hands frequently to avoid the spread of germs. Many companies are advertising hand sanitizers which are supposed to kill off 99.9% of germs present with every use. This would ultimately mean that they should be more effective than simply washing one’s hands with soap and water.
Hand Sanitizers – The Reality
In reality, however, hand sanitizers do not have quite the promised effect. While it is true that a hand sanitizer containing at least 60% of alcohol will indeed kill off many germs, the figure is far lower than those advertised.
This does by no means make these claims totally untrue. Hand sanitizers are capable of killing 99.9% of bacteria when tested on inanimate objects. Used on hands, something that is almost impossible to test effectively in lab conditions, the picture is very different.
In addition, hand sanitizers are rarely able to cut through actual dirt and grime on hands. This ultimately makes it necessary to use soap and warm water to remove both dirt and germs.
Most people tend to simply dip their hands under water and give them a quick soaping. While this may be enough to remove surface dirt, germs require a more thorough scrubbing.
This means that washing one’s hands should involve thoroughly wetting them with warm water, then scrubbing each hand with soap for at least 15 to 20 seconds. Actually counting out the seconds or, as some suggest, singing the alphabet or the Happy Birthday song not once, but twice, will ensure coming close to that time.
Each hand should be carefully cleansed by rubbing between the fingers, cleaning under the nails and also including the wrist and forearm. This should then be followed by drying them with disposable towels.
It has been shown that normal soaps are just as effective as so-called anti-bacterial soaps, with the anti-bacterial soaps actually carrying a risk of helping bacteria to become immune to the anti-bacterial substances within them.
Soap and Water versus Sanitizers
Sanitizers are ideal for immediate use when soap and water can not be accessed for any reason. This could be after using public transport, using a shopping cart or after touching an animal. As stated earlier, they need to contain at least 60% of alcohol to be effective in killing germs.
Whether using wipes or gel, the user needs to ensure that all areas of the hands are covered and continually rubbed until dry.
Washing hands with soap and water will, if done correctly, effectively remove all or at least most of the germs from hands and is consequently more suitable for the prevention of infections being spread in the long run.
Using both hand sanitizers when necessary and the old fashioned method of washing hands thoroughly with soap and water whenever possible should be part of everyone’s personal hygiene routine and subsequently reduce risks to personal health.