Can a hand sanitizer (alcohol gel) replace hand washing?
Let’s say you’ve just eaten your burger and have access to both hand sanitizer and soap and water. Which one should you choose?
For years our parents have told us about the importance of hand washing, but today people ask if hand sanitizers are more effective at killing germs than our old friend’s soap and water. The answer is yes”.
Today, most hand sanitizers use ethyl alcohol or isopropyl alcohol (or a mixture of them) as an active ingredient to kill 99.99% of germs on hands. Ethyl or isopropyl alcohol as an active ingredient has the ability to break down the cell walls of germs immediately and cause them to perish. But to kill 99.99% of germs, a hand sanitizer must contain a percentage of alcohol between 60% and 90%.
Soap is not actually a germicide or an antiseptic. On your hands, there are dead cells, dried sweat, various germs, and dust. Soap’s specialty is its ability to get rid of them mechanically. When you wash your hands with just water, the layer of oil on your hands will prevent the water from reacting with the skin and minimize hygiene. Regular soaps are made up of different hydrophilic molecules (which bind to water) and the other is hydrophobic (water repellent). When you rub your hands with soap and water, the soap molecules will break down the oil layer, while the water will remove the germs and dirt, but in the end, the percentage of germs killed by the combination of soap and water will be less than 99.99%.
While hand sanitizers are more effective at killing germs, keep in mind that hand sanitizers cannot remove dead skin cells, oil, and dirt from your hands, as the dirt does not evaporate while alcohol does. So if you end up with ketchup on your hands, you shouldn’t use hand sanitizer to clean up as your hands will be germ-free, but it will still be “dirty.” Always use soap and water when available instead of using hand sanitizer.