3 Experts Answer the question: Does Antibacterial Gel Work as Well as Washing Your Hands?
Dr. Rachel Orscheln, a pediatric infectious disease expert at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis:
According to the CDC, “Washing hands with soap and water is the best way to reduce the number of germs on them.”
However, alcohol-based hand sanitizers can also be very effective in cleaning the hands if the hands are not visibly dirty. Proper technique should be utilized when using alcohol-based hand sanitizers.
A product should be chosen that contains at least 60 percent alcohol. A sufficient amount of product should be applied to the hands to allow coverage of all surfaces of the hand and fingers. The hands should be rubbed together until they are dry. Using alcohol-based hand sanitizers can quickly reduce the number of most germs on the hands.
Carol McLay, RN, Infection Prevention Consultant in Lexington, Ky.
Frequent hand washing is the best way to keep yourself healthy and to prevent the spread of illness. The most effective way to wash your hands is with plain old soap and water.
Hands should be washed: Before, during and after preparing food; before eating or drinking; before and after caring for someone who is sick; before and after touching a cut or wound; after using the toilet; after changing diapers; after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing; after touching an animal or animal waste; after touching garbage.
While antibacterial gels can quickly reduce the number of germs on your hands, they do not eliminate all types of germs.
If soap and water is not available however, antimicrobial gels are the next best thing.
Katie Brewer, Senior Policy Analyst in the American Nursing Association’s Department of Practice and Policy
The best practice is to not use the antibacterial gel for any routine hand washing in the bathroom, in the kitchen, etc.
But you can, for normal every day situations where you cannot wash your hands, use antibacterial gel as a substitute.
The key to any kind of disinfecting substance is really in the technique. Alcohol works by friction. So you really need to vigorously rub your hands together to disinfect your hands. You may see people rub it in like lotion and that may sometimes work, but not always.
When washing your hands, use soap and water and rub them together for 20 seconds. And, antibacterial soap works just as well as old fashioned soap. In some studies the chemical triclosan in antibacterial soap was found to be somewhat harmful in the environment. The American Nurses Association offices have removed it since it’s no more effective.
Summarizing… Washing hands with soap and water is the best way to reduce the number of microbes on them in most situations. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
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