Hand Sanitizers: 5 Do's & Don'ts

With the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), keeping your hands as germ-free as possible is now more important than ever. Before you begin regularly reaching for hand sanitizer, though, it’s important to keep the facts in mind. Start with this one: Washing your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds is typically the best way to clean your hands.

If you can't get to soap and water, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer can be a good option. Even so, you have to use the right product — correctly — to get the full benefits.

Here are Some Good-to-Know Tips about Hand Sanitizers:

  1. Do use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. It should contain at least 60% alcohol. Sanitizers without alcohol may only keep germs from multiplying, rather than killing them. They may also contribute to antibiotic resistance. Also, keep in mind: Even an alcohol-based sanitizer doesn't get rid of all types of germs. Washing your hands with soap and warm water is better at removing:
    • Norovirus, the leading cause of food poisoning.
    • Clostridium difficile, which causes severe diarrhea.
    • Some parasites.
  2. Do check for dirt. If your hands are dirty or greasy, hand sanitizers may not work well. Stick to handwashing with soap and warm water, if possible.
  3. Do apply it correctly. Use enough sanitizer to cover all parts of your hands and fingers. Then rub your hands together until they feel dry. This should take about 20 seconds (the same amount of time it takes to wash your hands correctly). Don't rush; hand sanitizers may not be as effective if you rinse or wipe them off before your hands are dry.
  4. Don't rely on hand sanitizers to remove harmful chemicals. It's unlikely that sanitizers can remove chemicals like pesticides and heavy metals. If you've come in contact with these chemicals, wash your hands carefully with soap and warm water. Or, depending on the chemicals you’ve been exposed to, call a poison control center for directions.
  5. Do be careful around kids. Keep hand sanitizers out of the reach of young children, who might mistake them for food or candy. U.S. poison control centers received more than 17,000 calls about hand sanitizer exposure in kids 12 and younger last year alone. A child who swallows even a small amount of an alcohol-based hand sanitizer could be at risk for alcohol poisoning, which can be deadly in severe cases. 
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