Hand sanitizers are convenient. They come in little packages and can go anywhere. They are there when you need them and do their job without complaining. You may be wondering whether something so simple can work so well. The good news is that they are effective; the bad news is that it depends on the situation.
Hand sanitizers kill germs by wiping a layer of alcohol or other antiseptic on your skin. They also come in a number of convenient forms. You may find them in a gel form, in little bottles you can carry with you or large bottles in schools, hospitals and other places. You may also see them in a foam, squirted onto your hand through a motion detector or pump. You may also be able to find paper clothes or wipes doused in hand sanitizer liquid. This makes it easy for you to pack hand sanitizer in your purse and wipe down hands and faces at your convenience.
When used correctly, covering all surfaces of your hand and rubbed for 15 to 30 seconds, hand sanitizer will kill all bacteria and many viruses effectively. Note that it is much more effective on bacteria than viruses. If viruses are an issue in your situation, you may want to wash with soap and water. According to a University of Minnesota Extension, hand sanitizers do not effectively kill the norovirus.
Because you do not wash the germs and sanitizer off your skin, hand sanitizers could be potentially harmful. If you are working with food, or coming in contact directly with mouths or broken skin, the hand sanitizer can transmit its chemicals or the dirt or germs on your hands to those surfaces. The alcohol in the sanitizer can dry your skin with excessive use.
Hand sanitizer works best if your hands are visibly clean, but they may contain invisible germs. If your hands are soiled, the hand sanitizer may not be able to break through and kill any bacteria or viruses. Fats and proteins on your hands, from working with meats and other foods, make hand sanitizer especially ineffective.
Hand sanitizer is a great item to have on hand to wipe away any excess germs before eating or at the other times when washing your hands is not an option. However, it should not be a substitute. When you get the chance to wash with soap and warm water thoroughly, take that opportunity.