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Soap vs. Hand Sanitizer

It's a germy world out there, and keeping those germs off your hands is considered the best way to fight catching a cold or flu this season. We recently learned that washing your hands with cold water is just as effective as hot. We also know that anti-bacterial soaps are no more effective than regular soaps. But what about hand sanitizers? Here's a quick sketch of how soap and alcohol-based hand sanitizer compare.

Hand washing is recommended by the CDC over hand sanitizer, but if no sink is available hand sanitizer is considered second best. When hand washing, it is recommended that you work the soap into a full lather and wash for 20 seconds, which can seem like an awfully long time to scrub at the sink — many people don't wash for the recommended time. Alcohol-based hand sanitizer kills most most types of bacteria, viruses, and fungi in a few seconds, with the recommended rubbing time being 15 seconds. In terms of time, hand sanitizer kills more bacteria in less time.

To see how soap trumps sanitizer, read more.

But here's the rub (pun intended): although hand sanitizers have been shown to reduce gastrointestinal illnesses when used in households and reduce student absences when used in school, they do not kill norovirus, which can cause acute gastroenteritis, or E. coli. Nor does hand sanitizer remove feces, blood, or dirt. This means old-fashioned hand washing is best in restrooms and kitchens, but after a sneeze, a quick wipe-down with hand sanitizer will work.

Look for hand sanitizer with 60 percent ethanol (aka ethyl alcohol) like Purell or Web MD-recommended EO Lavender Hand Sanitizer. Do you keep hand sanitizer in your purse?

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