Hand Sanitizer vs. Washing Your Hands

We’ve heard plenty about the importance of clean hands lately, but what’s the best way to clean them? Should we use hand sanitizer or plain old soap and water? Does it depend on the situation?

Reducing germs

According to the CDC, handwashing should be your first choice in the fight against germs, because a good, vigorous scrub with soap and clean, running water gets rid of all types of germs. If you can’t get to soap and water, then using a 60% alcohol-based sanitizer will inactivate many types of germs—but not all types.

Cleaning dirt and grime

Soap and water definitely win this round. Lathering up and washing away dirt, grease, chemicals and other yucky stuff works much better than simply smearing it around with sanitizer. 

Home and away

At home, you should always opt for washing your hands, because you always have access to soap and water. When you’re out and about, though, hand sanitizer is an easy and convenient way to disinfect your hands when you don’t have soap and water handy. Just make sure you do it the right way, or it won’t be as effective.

How to properly use sanitizer

  • Choose a hand sanitizer that is made of at least 60% alcohol.
  • Make sure to read the label to learn how much product to apply to your hands—it’s often quite a bit more than we think we should use.
  • Rub the sanitizer all over your hands, front and back, between fingers and under fingernails.
  • Continue rubbing for at least 20 seconds, or until hands feel dry.
  • Do not rinse or wipe the sanitizer off your hands before it dries completely.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water as soon as you can.
The Correct Way to Wash Your Hands

There are seven steps to properly washing your hands. Learn about proper handwashing to help stay protected from germs.