One of the best ways to prevent a coronavirus infection is to wash your hands with soap and water — and when soap and water aren't available, public health experts say alcohol-based hand sanitizer is the next best option.
But just how effective are gels and sprays when it comes to getting rid of dangerous germs, such as the coronavirus? Here are seven things you should know about hand sanitizer.
Soap and water reign supreme when it comes to infection control, but believe it or not, soap and water do not kill germs; they remove them. The duo's effectiveness boils down to the mechanics of handwashing.
The rubbing and scrubbing of soap between your palms and fingers creates friction that breaks down the structure of the bacteria and loosens the germs from your skin, explains Maryanne McGuckin, an infection prevention specialist and author of The Patient Survival Guide: 8 Simple Solutions to Prevent Hospital- and Healthcare-Associated Infections. When you rinse your hands under water, you wash those germs down the drain.
Alcohol-based hand sanitizers, on the other hand, do kill germs on the skin — most germs, anyway. Hand sanitizer is less effective at killing Cryptosporidium, norovirus and Clostridium difficile, all of which cause diarrhea, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says. Scientists suspect hand sanitizer does, however, kill the coronavirus.
Hand sanitizers also don't work as well if your hands are visibly dirty or greasy, and they may not remove harmful chemicals such as pesticides and heavy metals like lead.
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