Hand soap vs. hand sanitizer

Last week in two of my classes we had a big discussion on hand washing vs. using hand sanitizer. There was a story on Good Morning America about this which I went searching for this weekend. Both classes the participants insisted hand sanitizer was the best way to go, but some parents are concerned about accidental (or otherwise) ingestion of hand sanitizer by their kids. So what method is the best way to prevent the spread of germs? The study recommended good hand washing.

Good hand washing techniques wash germs away. It doesn't kill germs, just washes them down the drain. It really doesn't matter if you use regular soap or antibacterial soap. The study done at the University of Maryland demonstrated that use of antibacterial soap did not do a significantly better job than just hand soap. What made the difference with hand washing was the technique used. Wash for at least 20 seconds or more. Statistically they found that most people just do a quick rinse. It is the good rinsing with hot water that help wash the germs away.

There are also concerns that too many antibacterial products will lead to germs becoming more resistant or that we'll rely to heavily on antibacterial products instead of using good hand washing techniques.

Hand Sanitizers do the job of killing germs when you are unable to get to soap and water to wash your hands. To have any real effect the sanitizer must contain at least 60% alcohol. The 2 bottles I check at home this weekend at 63% & 64% alcohol. One area from the study I do disagree with it one of the last statements. GMA wrote that experts commented that most kids won't eat or lick hand sanitizers because they don't taste good. We had a large discussion on this in one of my classes last week because of all of the lovely fruit scented hand sanitizers that can be found in stores. One of the parents had a pomegranate scented hand sanitizer and actually took a lick of her finger after using it. She confirmed that indeed, it tasted like pomegranate. So for parents I'd recommend NOT purchasing scented hand sanitizer.

You can read the full GMA Article here.

So what's the best option? If you don't think you'll do a good job with hand washing (or don't think your kids will) hand sanitizer is probably a good alternative. At home and school good hand washing techniques with soap and water are the best way to wash grime and germs off your hands.


  1. Interesting post Gail! At the library, I have taken the major step of moving the little bottle of Purell from our side of the circulation desk to the top of the desk for all to see and use. Any thoughts on contamination/decontamination of public computer keyboards? As people are unlikely to wash hands before and after using the PCs, maybe I should get a second bottle of Purell for that table. Anyway, good stuff, thanks for posting.

  2. Great question Scott! Computer keyboards, door handles and telephones probably carry high amounts of germs because we don't think to clean them regularly. I would either wipe the keyboards down with disinfecting wipes or use Lysol or Clorox spray. Probably after each person uses them. Include cleaning your own keyboard as well, since you may carry germs on your hands that you've picked up in other areas of the library.


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