If you’re a mom, we’re betting you have at least one bottle of hand sanitizer stashed inside your bag or your baby’s diaper bag. It’s become a necessity since you can't keep your little ones from touching everything, and you don't have superpowers to stop them every time they put their fingers in their mouths. But is your hand sanitizer really helping your family to be sick-free?
Yes, hand sanitizers help with germs, but the best ones contain a minimum of 60% alcohol, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). An alcohol-based sanitizer is the best option to go for if soap and water for handwashing are not readily available. It is also the advice of the World Health Organization against the spread of infection.
The University of California, Berkeley, School of Public Health explains the minimum 60% alcohol concentration can kill most bacteria and viruses on contact when used correctly. What does this mean exactly? The hand sanitizer liquid you dispense should be enough to cover all the surfaces of both hands “including between your fingers and up around your fingertips and nails,” said Berkeley Wellness, the school's health resource site.
“It should take about 30 seconds of rubbing your hands together for the product to completely dry. Do not touch food or anything else until your hands are dry.”
Non-alcohol-based sanitizers don't work as well and can even cause germs to develop resistance from sanitizing agents, said the CDC.
Hand sanitizers that claim to be “antibacterial” are probably the worst at providing germ protection. In fact, they contain ingredients that have been banned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
“There is concern that their ingredients are contributing to the development of bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics,” said Berkeley Wellness, which provides this tip: If the product has a “Drug Facts” label it likely has antibacterial agents.
Plus, unlike alcohol-based sanitizers, antibacterial ones can’t kill viruses, which causes the majority of common illnesses like the colds and flu, Dr. Grant Hill-Cawthorne, the senior lecturer in communicable disease epidemiology at the University of Sydney, told Mamamia.
“The vast majority of things that people have [during flu season] are viral,” he said. “Actually, nine times out of 10 if you contract an infection or a tummy bug, or something like that, it’s going to be a virus.”
The best way to clean your hands is still to wash them with soap and water whenever possible. “That’s still one of the most important steps you can take to avoid getting sick and to prevent spreading germs,” said the FDA.
“The key is washing hands with soap and water before preparing food, after the bathroom, and if you’ve been in contact with someone that’s unwell,” said Dr. Hill-Cawthorne. “That’s by far the easiest and safest method to protect yourself.”
Along with your bottle of hand sanitizer, why not have a bottle of liquid hand soap in your bag as well?