Health

Which is better: hand sanitizer or soap?

Which is better: hand sanitizer or soap?
WRITTEN BY
05/04/21
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Amna (Soap)

In the frenzy of finding the best way to get rid of pathogens and viruses, the alcohol-based hand sanitizer is the modern consumer's logical choice. However, it might be better to go back to basics, such as hand washing. The entire handwashing process focuses on covering a large surface area and scrubbing every nook and cranny. Soap and water are natural parts of this process and are dried off, making skin less hospitable to pathogens. The scientific evidence in support of handwashing is overwhelming.

In Japan, scientists learned that hand sanitizer is less effective than soap in killing pathogens for influenza A, as it needs to stay in contact with the skin for over four minutes to work properly. Alternatively, soap and water eliminate the virus within 30 seconds. And according to UCI health, using soap eliminates 'common illness-causing germs [such] as cryptosporidium, norovirus and Clostridium difficile' more effectively than hand sanitizer. Even ordinary soaps remove the debris along with bacteria, achieving total cleanliness. Sanitizers don't perform well on greasy or dirty skin and can't remove heavy metals or pesticides. In one study, people who reported using hand sanitizer to clean hands had increased pesticide levels in their bodies. Therefore, soap is preferable in a work environment.

Alcohol-based sanitizers are also a fire hazard and can be fatal if swallowed. Therefore, they should not be kept within reach of children, as doing so may lead to fatal poisoning. Further, according to UC health, 'Soap is simple, cheap, and incredibly effective' for eliminating coronavirus. It is also the best option for personal hygiene and disease prevention, hands down.


Luna (Hand Sanitizer)

While washing your hands with soap and water is hygienic enough, using hand sanitizer is more effective. Studies have shown that sanitizers with alcohol concentrations between 60%-95% are more effective at cleaning dust and germs. 

A Spanish study involving over 900 children of different age groups tested how kids react to using a hand sanitizer versus soap and water. They found that children who use hand sanitizer were less likely to develop respiratory infections, while children who use soap and water were prescribed more antibiotics for respiratory infections. 

Along with scientific proof, studies like these also prove another point: the accessibility and convenience that comes with using hand sanitizer. Washing hands with soap and water may be challenging for younger children, but they can easily use a button or paddle-operated hand sanitizer bottle/vendor. 

Hand sanitizer is also easier to carry and can be used while traveling or in emergencies where soap and water may not be available. This is helpful for first responders, as they don’t always have a chance to stop by a sink. This portability increases the chances that a hand sanitizer will be used in situations that require hygienic caution. 

Due to their easy accessibility and functional benefits, many experts recommend using hand sanitizers. In an article published by Allure.com, doctors, physicians, skincare experts, medical directors, and infectious disease specialists all vouch for the power of hand sanitizers. 

So while there are certain upsides to using soap and water, hand sanitizer is simply more effective and time-saving, which leads to better hand hygiene overall.

Fact Box

  • The earliest historical evidence for soap being in use dates back to 2800 BC in ancient Babylonia.  
  • The CDC recommends that hand sanitizer should contain “at least 60% alcohol (often listed on the label as ethanol, ethyl alcohol, isopropanol, or 2-propanol).”
  • Purell hand sanitizer sales increased by 600% during the 2020 pandemic. 
  • Hand washing was not commonplace throughout history and was not incorporated into medical protocols until the 1870s, with National Geographic noting, “Surgeons began regularly scrubbing up in the 1870s, but the importance of everyday handwashing did not become universal until more than a century later. It wasn’t until the 1980s that hand hygiene was officially incorporated into American health care with the first national hand hygiene guidelines.”
  • According to a Bradley Corporation Healthy Handwashing survey, in January 2021, about 57% of Americans wash their hands 6 to 15 times per day. 
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