The Truth About Hand Sanitizers
Mike Parker

Washing your hands with soap and water is a great way to help prevent the spread of germs that can cause diseases. But sometimes it just not feasible. Maybe you’re in the car on a long road trip, and you’re 120 miles into the middle of nowhere when you suddenly have a vicious sneeze. You thank your lucky stars you have a pack of tissues in the glove box, but there’s no place to stop and wash your hands. No problem! You also have a squeeze bottle of glistening hand sanitizer, right beside the tissues.

Accord to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this is an appropriate time to use a hand sanitizer. But the CDC warns that to be effective, hand sanitizers must be used properly, and not all hand sanitizers are created equal. If you need to use hand sanitizer instead of good old-fashioned soap and water, here are a few things to consider:

Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, rather than an anti-bacterial-based hand sanitizer. According to the CDC, hand sanitizers with an alcohol concentration between at least 60 percent are more effective at killing germs than non-alcohol-based hand sanitizers. Non-alcohol-based hand sanitizers may not work equally well for all classes of germs. Anti-bacterial-based hand sanitizers may cause germs to develop resistance to the sanitizing agent. Non-alcohol-based hand sanitizers typically only reduce the growth of germs rather than killing them outright. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are less likely to irritate skin than non-alcohol-based hand sanitizers.

While using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer when you can’t get to soap and water is a good substitute for hand washing, the CDC does not recommend it as a replacement for hand washing for optimum health benefits. For example, while alcohol-based hand sanitizers might kill germs, they don’t eliminate dirt, grease or harmful chemicals, such as pesticides, from the skin. And if your hands are dirty or greasy, the sanitizer might not be able to get to the skin where the germs are located, making it less effective at killing those germs.

For more information on when and how to use hand sanitizers visit the CDC at

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