What is the Best Way to Clean or Sanitize Your Hands?

Did you know that May 5 was International Hand Hygiene Day? International Hand Hygiene Day is an initiative designed to increase awareness about the effectiveness of hand washing in preventing the spread of disease. Most of its focus is on the healthcare sector, but average consumers can learn a thing or two as well.

Looking over some of the materials presented by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Centers For Disease Control And Prevention (CDC) reveals some interesting things you may not know about hand washing. For example, what is the best way to clean or sanitize your hands in a particular situation?

We used the terms ‘clean’ and ‘sanitize’ for a reason. They aren’t necessarily the same thing. For example, you’re not actually cleaning your hands when you use an alcohol-based sanitizer. You are sanitizing them. That difference leads us directly into the first main point of this discussion.

Hand Sanitizers Don’t Clean

A hand sanitizer is, by definition, a substance intended to sanitize. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers kill most germs on contact. But hand sanitizers are not surfactants. They are not going to remove dirt and grease from your hands. You need hand soap for that.

Also note that alcohol-based sanitizers do not kill what we commonly refer to as C. diff. If you have a C. diff infection or are afraid of contracting one, wash your hands with soap and water.

Soaps Are Surfactants

The biggest difference between soaps and hand sanitizers is function. While an alcohol-based hand sanitizer kills germs on contact, a soap acts as a surfactant that cleans the hands. What is a surfactant? It is a substance that breaks the bond between dirt and the underlying surface so that water can wash it away.

If you’re trying to clean grime off your hands, any soap will do a better job than alcohol-based sanitizer. You can use a synthetic hand soap from the grocery store or an all-natural product, like a beer soap. Both will do the trick.

Hand Sanitizers in Public Settings

Knowing what we know about alcohol-based hand sanitizers, it makes sense that they are appropriate for public settings. Hospitals and doctors’ offices are fitting examples. You may have hands free of dirt and debris, but not necessarily free of germs. Using hand sanitizer upon entry reduces the chance that you will spread germs to patients and healthcare workers.

Hand Soaps at Home

Although you can use sanitizers at home, it’s not really necessary in most cases. A good hand soap is all you’ll need to keep your hands clean and germ-free. Remember that hand sanitizers are recommended in public places because of the sheer volume of people coming and going. It’s just you and your family at home. As long as you keep a clean house, the risk of contracting a serious illness from germs is quite low.

Kuhdoo Soap, a family-owned and operated soap company based in Austin, TX, says today’s consumers are more likely to prefer all-natural soap products over synthetics. By the way, they make the previously mentioned beer soap.

At any rate, a good hand soap will do the job at home. If you are worried about guests bringing germs into your house, you can keep some hand sanitizer handy. A dispenser at the kitchen sink and another in each of the bathrooms should be sufficient.

Remember, you can both clean and sanitize your hands. Hand sanitizer only addresses germs. Soap and water deals with germs and cleans at the same time.