Are Hand Sanitizers Just As Good As Washing Your Hands?

Long before scientists discovered the existence of germs, doctors in the mid-19th century had begun to speak about the importance of hand washing, per History. But the remarkable turn of events in 2020, which saw the emergence of the COVID-19 virus, brought about several stringent health and safety regulations, per Queensland Health.

Due to the nature of the virus and how it can enter the human system through mucus and bodily fluids, one of the most important regulations was to regularly cleanse one's hands, according to UNICEF. This led to a bit of a conundrum in that people were unable to take soap and water around. To get around this situation, they began to rely heavily on hand sanitizers, the closest alternative, per Flushing Hospital Medical Center.

Hand sanitizers have been in use by health care professionals for years, and even used by the general public long before 2020. An example of this is the consumer rush for hand sanitizer in 2009 during the H1N1 swine flu epidemic, per CNBC. But do these hand sanitizers really do the same job as washing your hands? 

Which is better between hand sanitizers and washing your hands?

Hand sanitizers were created as an alternative to hand washing. With a high alcohol content, they were crafted to kill germs, notes Live Science. However, this does not mean that it can completely replace the role of hand washing in hygiene. It was designed to be used only as a stop gap measure, not a permanent replacement for soap and water, per Chemical & Engineering News.

The most efficient hand sanitizers often have 60% alcohol in them, but even though the CDC recommends them, they still emphasize the importance of hand washing because there are germs and bacteria that are removed faster by soap and water. There are also some that hand sanitizer can't kill. In addition to that, some believe that the alcohol in hand sanitizers can strip the human skin of its natural barrier to infection, according to Purdue News.

Hand sanitizers can help get rid of germs and maybe even make the skin feel less dusty, however, a tube of hand sanitizer can't do anything against grease, oil, and other stains. That's a job for soap and water, per Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Hand sanitizers may also be inefficient if they're not used properly. For example, in cases where too little is used or where it gets wiped off before the alcohol dries completely, per UCI Health. Ultimately, washing your hands may not always be an option, but if there is access to soap and clean water, hand washing is better than using hand sanitizer.