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Soap Vs Hand Sanitiser - What Works Best?

Keeping your hand germ free is one of your best defenses against viral and bacterial infections. Health authorities are pushing thorough hand washing, and hand sanitising stations seem to be popping up everywhere. Which is best?

The answer is - it depends!

Let’s consider the current Coronavirus pandemic. Both soap and water and hand sanitiser are effective if used properly. However most experts agree that hand washing is superior to hand sanitiser against the SARS CoV-2 virus - the virus responsible for COVID-19.

The action of washing has 2 effects:

  • The soap can deactivate the virus by damaging the lipid coating that surrounds and protects the SARS CoV-2 virus
  • The washing action will dislodge the viral cell from your hand and proper rinsing will flush them away.

Hand sanitisers are also effective - just not quite as good as washing with soap and water. But if you only have a hand sanitiser available - don’t worry, just use it. The key thing to remember is to use a liberal amount so it really allows you to wet both hands well, and rub in thoroughly including between your fingers and under your fingernails. The most effective hand sanitisers contain at a minimum 70% alcohol, either ethanol or Isopropyl alcohol. Ideally you should look for a reputable brand or buy from a reputable retailer.

To be effective, hand washing must be done correctly. Here are some basic guidelines on proper hand washing technique:

  • Wet your hands with clean running water and apply soap.
  • Create a lather by rubbing your hands together.
  • Scrub all surfaces of your hands for 20 seconds. This includes your palms, the backs of your hands, fingers, between your fingers and under your nails. Pro tip: Try counting to 20 twice and most people count to 20 in their head in about 10 seconds
  • Rinse your hands under clean running water.
  • Dry your hands, preferably using a clean towel, or air dry them of no towel is available

When using hand sanitizer you should use a very similar method and then allow your hands to dry  naturally.

How often should you wash or sanitise?

As a general rule of thumb you should be washing your hands every hour or so and also when you do any of the following:

  • Before, during and after preparing food
  • Before eating
  • Before and after caring for someone who is sick
  • Before and after treating a cut or wound
  • After using the bathroom, changing nappies or cleaning up a child who has used the bathroom
  • After blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing
  • After touching an animal, animal food or treats, animal cages, or animal waste
  • After touching garbage
  • If your hands are visibly dirty or greasy

Whether you wash your hand or use sanitiser, it’s important you practice good hand hygiene to help minimise your risk of infection from viruses and bacteria. 

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