Clean Hands Debate: Hand Washing vs Hand Sanitizer

The world has been rocked by the COVID-19 pandemic, and one of the ways that people can protect themselves from the virus is by maintaining good hand hygiene. This includes both washing your hands with soap and water and using hand sanitizer. However, there has been some debate about which method is more effective. In this article, we will explore the Clean Hands Debate: Hand Washing vs Hand Sanitizer.

The Science of Hand Hygiene

Before we dive into the debate about hand washing versus hand sanitizer, let’s first discuss the science behind hand hygiene. Both hand washing with soap and water and using hand sanitizer work by killing and removing germs from your hands. Germs can include viruses, bacteria, and fungi that can cause illness.

Hand washing with soap and water is the most effective way to remove germs from your hands. When you wash your hands, the soap breaks down the outer layer of the virus, which is made up of a fatty substance, and then the water washes it away.

Hand sanitizer, on the other hand, works by using alcohol to kill the germs on your hands. The alcohol can break down the protein in the virus, effectively killing it. While hand sanitizer is not as effective as hand washing, it can be a good alternative when soap and water are not available.

The Debate: Hand Washing vs Hand Sanitizer

Effectiveness

As mentioned before, hand washing is the most effective way to remove germs from your hands. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), hand washing with soap and water can reduce the number of germs on your hands by up to 99.9%. In contrast, hand sanitizer can only reduce the number of germs by up to 85%. This means that hand washing is more effective at stopping the spread of illness.

However, this doesn’t mean that hand sanitizer is completely ineffective. It can still be a good option when soap and water are not available or when you are out in public and need to quickly clean your hands.

Convenience

One of the reasons that people often choose hand sanitizer over hand washing is convenience. Hand sanitizer is easy to carry around and can be used quickly when you need it. In contrast, hand washing requires access to soap and water and takes a bit more time to do correctly.

However, it is important to note that hand washing can still be effective and convenient if you have access to soap and water. Hand washing can take as little as 20 seconds and can be done anywhere there is a sink available.

Side Effects

While both hand washing and hand sanitizer are generally safe to use, there can be some side effects. Hand washing can lead to dry and cracked skin if done too frequently or if harsh soaps are used. Hand sanitizer can also cause dry skin if used too frequently, as well as irritation or allergic reactions in some individuals.

Environmental Impact

Hand washing and hand sanitizer can both have an impact on the environment. Hand washing requires water, which can be a scarce resource in some areas, and also produces wastewater that needs to be treated. Hand sanitizer, which often comes in plastic packaging, can contribute to plastic waste.

However, the environmental impact of hand sanitizer may be less than hand washing if done correctly. According to the CDC, using hand sanitizer can actually conserve water, as it requires less water than hand washing. Additionally, some hand sanitizers come in eco-friendly packaging and can be made from natural ingredients.

Conclusion

Both hand washing and hand sanitizer are effective ways to maintain good hand hygiene and protect yourself from illness. Hand washing is the more effective option and should be the first choice when possible. However, hand sanitizer can be a good alternative when soap and water are not available or when you need to clean your hands quickly.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is hand sanitizer as effective as hand washing?
  • No, hand washing with soap and water is the most effective way to remove germs from your hands. Hand sanitizer can only reduce the number of germs by up to 85%.

  • When should I use hand sanitizer?
  • Hand sanitizer can be a good option when soap and water are not available or when you need to clean your hands quickly.

  • Does hand sanitizer kill all germs?
  • No, hand sanitizer is not effective against all types of germs. It is most effective against viruses and bacteria, but may not be effective against fungi or parasitic organisms.

  • Can hand sanitizer cause skin irritation?
  • Yes, hand sanitizer can cause dry skin, irritation, or allergic reactions in some individuals.

  • Is hand sanitizer bad for the environment?
  • Hand sanitizer, which often comes in plastic packaging, can contribute to plastic waste. However, using hand sanitizer can actually conserve water, which can be a scarce resource in some areas.

References

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, February 16). Show Me the Science – When & How to Use Hand Sanitizer in Community Settings. Retrieved March 20, 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/show-me-the-science-hand-sanitizer.html

Mayo Clinic. (2020, August 4). Hand-washing: Do’s and don’ts. Retrieved March 20, 2021, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/hand-washing/art-20046253

World Health Organization. (2019, October 1). Hand hygiene in health care. Retrieved March 20, 2021, from https://www.who.int/gpsc/5may/background/5moments/en/

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