Hand Washing Vs Hand Sanitizer: Which One Is Better?

It wasn't very long ago that a bottle of hand sanitizer was practically impossible to find. Almost overnight, it vanished off of store shelves, along with toilet paper, disinfecting wipes, and instant yeast. Oddly enough, though, using hand sanitizer was never the CDC's preferred way of eliminating germs. A cheaper, old-fashioned method was: just handwashing with soap and water.

It's true that hand sanitizer has a number of pros in its favor — the sheer convenience, for one, of being able to easily tote a bottle around at all times. And, when used correctly, it is definitely effective at neutralizing many nasty germs. According to Northwestern Medicine, for hand sanitizer to really do its job, you have to make sure it contains at least 60 percent alcohol, rub it all over the surface of your hands, and let it dry, which usually takes about 30 seconds. Though, it can sometimes take up to 100 seconds for hand sanitizer to dry.

Hand sanitizer is convenient when you're on-the-go

But hand sanitizer has its limitations, too. There are still a number of unwanted germs that it's not effective against, like norovirus, and some types of pathogenic bacteria. It doesn't seem to help remove or neutralize harmful chemicals, either. Also, according to the CDC, if hands are particularly dirty or greasy, sanitizer may not work all that well.

Athanasios Melisiotis, a physician with Penn Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, told Allure, "Hand sanitizer may kill viruses and certain bacteria, but it does not 'clean' your hands like soap and water do. Sanitizer doesn't remove actual dirt and debris. Soap kills germs, binds them, and helps physically remove them, with the water, off your skin and down the drain."

That's why washing hands with plain soap and water is still the best way to get them clean and stop the spread of germs. It's a more thorough and effective method. Think of hand sanitizer as a convenient, portable option for when it's not possible to actually wash your hands. As Dr. Melisiotis adds, "Hand sanitizers are great in a pinch and are more convenient, but soap and water ultimately are better."