Handwashing or Hand Sanitizer?

Both help during continuing COVID-19 pandemic

Mother watches son and daughter washing their hands to prevent COVID-19.

Both help during continuing COVID-19 pandemic

Hands down, proper and consistent handwashing is the gold standard for most effectively killing viruses, including the COVID-19 and flu viruses. Continue to be vigilant about protecting yourself and your family from the COVID-19 virus with the simple measures of washing your hands and using hand sanitizer.

According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), washing your hands with soap and water is the best way to prevent the spread of infections and decrease the risk of getting sick.


“It’s important to wash your hands often, especially before preparing food and eating, and after coughing, sneezing, blowing your nose and going to the restroom,” says Ghazala Sharieff, MD, MBA, Scripps chief medical officer, clinical excellence and experience.


During COVID-19, you should also wash your hands:

  • After you have been in a public place and touched an item or surface frequently touched by other people, such as a doorknob, elevator button or gas pump
  • Before touching your eyes, nose or mouth because that’s how germs enter the body

Handwashing steps

To ensure you are killing germs, follow these steps every time you wash your hands:

  • Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.
  • Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
  • Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. A hint — hum the “Happy Birthday” song to yourself from beginning to end twice to time it or check out this 20-second handwashing playlist.
  • Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
  • Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.

Hand sanitizer helps too

When you are out and about and unable to wash your hands, hand sanitizer is a good option. Be certain to use hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent ethanol alcohol or 70 percent isopropanol alcohol.

According to the CDC, hand sanitizers are effective at neutralizing many microbes, viruses and bacteria, but not all. Non-alcohol-based hand sanitizers or those with less than 60 percent alcohol may reduce germs, but not kill them. If benzalkonium chloride is listed as an active ingredient, the sanitizer is probably alcohol-free, or does not include a high enough percentage of alcohol to ward off the COVID-19 virus.

Don’t rely on homemade hand sanitizer

While you may be tempted to make your own blend, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that you don’t rely on homemade hand sanitizer. If made incorrectly, it can be ineffective and may even cause dermatitis or mild burns to sensitive skin.To be effective, the percentage of ingredients in sanitizer must be precise; mixing aloe vera, essential oils and throwing in some alcohol won’t work. In addition, any utensils and containers used should be sterilized to minimize contamination.

Adopting these simple sanitizing strategies can play an essential role in minimizing your risk of contracting COVID-19.

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