Hand washing or hand sanitizer: Which beats back the flu better?

Proper technique fo
washing
your hands
with soap and water:

Wet hands with clean, running water and apply soap.

Tip:  Avoid hot water to prevent skin irritation.

Rub hands together for at least 20 seconds, covering all surfaces of the hands and fingers.

Tip:  Mentally sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice to time your efforts.

Rinse hands with water and dry thoroughly with a disposable towel.

Tip:  Dry hands completely because germs are passed in larger numbers from wet hands than from dry.

Proper technique for
using hand sanitizer

Observe hands for visible dirt and revert to hand washing with soap and water if present.

Tip: If hands are wet wash with soap and water.

Check the label for manufactures’ recommended volume application.

Tip: Apply enough of the product to wet your hands completely.

Rub your hands together covering all surfaces until they are dry.

Tip:  A sufficient amount of alcohol was applied if drying takes 30 seconds.

Amidst a busy flu season it is important to remind ourselves of the simple sanitary obligations in order to maintain public health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) consider hand hygiene to be at the top of the list for prevention of spreading germs and getting sick. 

Hand hygiene is not a new concept. In 1822, a French pharmacist used solutions containing chlorides of lime or soda as disinfectants and antiseptics. Nursing pioneers such as Florence Nightingale led the way as early as 1854, during the Crimean war, by recognizing anti-septic agents used for hand washing significantly reduced the spread of disease and mortality. Why are we not washing our hands?

With a market saturated with gels, sprays, foams, liquid and antibacterial soaps each claiming to kill 99.9 percent of bacteria, we are confused.  Moms, school teachers, grocers, librarians and many more want to know which work the best?

The CDC maintains washing with soap and water to be the best method for germ reduction. Research shows regular soap to be as effective as antibacterial soap. Some scientists even discourage use of anti-bacterial soap related to the destruction of healthy bacteria. The effectiveness of hand washing with soap and water is greatly affected by the technique used.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates antiseptic hand wash products and found solutions containing 6o-95 percent ethanol or isopropanol alcohol to be most effective.  Consumers should take note of product labels before making a purchase because products containing less than 40 percent alcohol have been found on store shelves.  The FDA stresses that the effectiveness of alcohol-based hand hygiene products may be skewed by the concentration of alcohol, contact time, volume of alcohol used and whether the hands are wet when the alcohol is applied.  

Wash hands with soap and water after every 5-10 applications of hand gel to eliminate build-up.

Hand hygiene practices play an important role in the prevention and spread of disease.  Most of us realize we need to wash our hands and have been told this since a very young age. Whether using soap and water or hand sanitizer, now is the time to slow down and be mindful of proper technique. All you need is 30 seconds.

Posted by

Mary Hesselrode

Mary Hesselrode

Instructor in Nursing

Mary Hesselrode, instructor in nursing, earned her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Harding Unive... [More]

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