How Effective are Hand Sanitizers?

SONY DSCThough old-fashioned hand-washing is the best way to keep hands clean and combat germs, gel hand sanitizers are a good alternative when soap and water aren’t readily available, a CHOC Children’s physician says.

“They certainly don’t take the place of proper hand-washing,” says Dr. Negar Ashouri, a CHOC infectious disease specialist. “That is still the best way to help prevent the spread of infection. But when you don’t have access to soap and water, hand sanitizers are a good alternative.”

Hand sanitizers can also supplement hand-washing, Dr. Ashouri says. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends scrubbing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. However, the average person doesn’t always wash their hands long enough or effectively enough to kill germs entirely. In addition, people don’t always use enough soap, or they don’t clean the entire hand.

If you coat the whole hand with the gel, alcohol-based hand sanitizers work well to help kill germs, she says. The CDC notes that alcohol-based hand sanitizers can quickly reduce the number of microbes on hands in some situations, but sanitizers do not eliminate all types of germs.

Hand sanitizers should be alcohol-based and have a concentration of at least 60 percent alcohol to be effective. Dr. Ashouri says any brand is fine as long as it meets that level of alcohol concentration.

Also, she adds that it’s a myth that people build a resistance to gel sanitizers and that long-term use renders them ineffective.

Learn more about CHOC’s infectious disease division.

Related articles:

  • Hand Sanitizers: Fact or Fiction?
    Hand sanitizer gels are ubiquitous these days – and so are the myths surrounding these products. Today, a CHOC Children’s infectious disease specialist comes clean on what’s fact and what’s fiction ...
  • Kids and Germs
    Germs are everywhere, especially as we head into the cold and flu season. Learn how you can protect your kids from harmful bugs so they will not get sick.
  • Reduce the Risks of Cold and Flu Bugs
    It’s cold and flu season! While there’s no protection against germs at school or the workplace, there are ways to reduce the risks. Your child might have a cold if he ...