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Hand Sanitiser or Soap and Water?

Since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration demanded Gojo Industries Inc. remove certain claims about Purell® on Jan 17 2020, there has been a huge debate about which is best. So, should you use hand sanitiser or soap and water?

In our opinion, for the best possible protection, you should use both. The alcohol based sanitisers (62%-70% ABV) work mostly by killing the pathogens. Whereas, soap and water works mostly by washing the pathogens down the sink.

Alcohol-Based Hand Sanitiser

Not all sanitisers are made equal, and you really should go for one that’s in the 62% – 70% alcohol content range, and is specifically designed as a healthcare sanitiser. Alcohol doesn’t kill everything though, with notable exceptions such as norovirus, some parasites like Giardia, and the diarrhea-causing bacterium Clostridium difficile (C.diff). It is unclear which is most effective against Ebola. However, both should be effective against most coronaviruses such as Wuhan 2019-nCoV and SARS.

Certainly, you should have both alcohol based hand sanitiser and disinfectant soap in your preparedness kit.

Soap and Water

Like hand sanitisers, not all soaps are created equal either. All will help to some extent when washing your hands as the main effect is to loosen the pathogens grip on your hands and wash them down the sink. A disinfectant soap with a chlorine based disinfectant agent will not only help clean your hands, but will also help with killing any pathogens present too.

Hand washing with soap and water

Our Recommended Hand Hygiene Procedure

The procedure we think you should follow is:

  1. Run your hands under clean, running water (hot or cold).
  2. Lather up your hands and fingers with soap.
  3. Scrub for at least 20 seconds making sure to clean between fingers and your fingertips.
  4. Rinse your hands with clean water.
  5. Dry your hands completely using a clean paper towel, or let them air-dry.
  6. Liberally apply alcohol-based hand sanitiser, so your hands are very wet, all over.
  7. Allow the hand sanitiser to air-dry.

So why do we say do both? Basically they both act by a different mechanism, so the idea is that once you have got rid of the bulk by washing with soap and water, you then kill whatever is left with the alcohol-based sanitiser.