These hands... they look so strong.
October 13, 2010 8:45 PM   Subscribe

Given the option of either soap and warm water, or alcohol-based hand sanitizer, which should I use to clean my hands?
posted by davidjmcgee to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Soap and warm water for the win! This combo cleans your hands by trapping the bacteria in the suspension of soap and water, with the trapped bacteria going down the drain when you rinse. Plain soap is all you need, too: you don't need to mess with the ecosystem and increase bacterial resistance by using anti-bacterial soap.

In contrast, hand sanitizers kill both good and bad bacteria, strip some skin cells off your hands, and leave your hands dry and irritated from the alcohol.

And if you don't believe me, believe this article from Medscape, which says proper handwashing is superior to sanitizers when it comes protecting you from the flu.
posted by maudlin at 8:58 PM on October 13, 2010 [13 favorites]

Can you tell us more about the circumstances? Answers will vary based on whether you are a healthcare worker, an auto mechanic, or just a dude with dirty hands.
posted by charmcityblues at 8:58 PM on October 13, 2010

Is there actual "dirt" on your hands? Bodily fluids? Did you sneeze on them? Wash them.
Are you walking into or out of a patient's hospital room, and do you do it an average of ten times an hour? Use alcohol sanitizer.
posted by halogen at 9:04 PM on October 13, 2010 [3 favorites]

Consumer-grade hand sanitizers (e.g. Purell) actually make your hands less clean, because of the residue they leave behind (scents, moisturizer, etc.). Try it out for yourself:

1. Give your hands a nice, thorough cleaning with regular, unscented soap and water. Lick them and note the taste.
2. Give your hands a nice, thorough sanitizing with hand sanitizer. Lick them and note the taste.
3. Compare the tastes from steps 1 and 2.
posted by clorox at 9:54 PM on October 13, 2010

Soap & water. Sing the ABC song while you wash. That's long enough.

Also, I read that hand sanitizers don't work in the presence of some body proteins... in other words, if you have... visible STUFF on your hands... (I'll leave that to your imagination) the sanitizer will not work.

Even going into the NICU at my local hospital, we washed with soap and water; antibacterial soap up to our elbows.
posted by IndigoRain at 10:12 PM on October 13, 2010

Soap and water.

I just did my mandatory annual infectious disease control refresher last week, and it would seem as though the tide of opinion is turning against alcohol-based hand sanitizer, at least as a sort of panacea. Apparently they are ineffective against c. diff spores, among other things.

They're better than nothing, and since proper handwashing takes a fair bit of time it's good to have sanitizer stations around, but you shouldn't get into the habit of using it as a replacement for regular soap and water handwashing.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:13 PM on October 13, 2010

The friction of washing your hands is apparently a good bit of the effectiveness. I personally think that the alcohol stuff is a bit useless but ymmv.
posted by fshgrl at 10:19 PM on October 13, 2010

Soap and water. Hand sanitizers do little against proteinaceous viruses like Hepatitis A (ref).
posted by benzenedream at 12:54 AM on October 14, 2010

Soap and water when you can. When that's not available, use an alcohol free sanitizer so you don't trash your hands.
posted by spilon at 1:31 AM on October 14, 2010

I just read an article about this. Soap and water won. It also stressed that drying your hands well afterwards was equally important (but sadly I forget the exact reasoning). While hand sanitizers worked in a pinch, continued use could dry your hands out to the point where there are cuts and cracks, that make great footholds for bacteria.
posted by kaybdc at 7:16 AM on October 14, 2010

I have seen a study that showed sanitizers having comparable effectiveness to soap in reducing hospital acquired infections such as C. diff. and MSRA. That is comparing people mostly trained in proper hand washing. The average person lacks such training and spends far too little time in the washing process. Unfortunately, health professionals, even though they know better, far too often fail to spend enough time washing. As for which is harder on your skin, I don't think that frequent hand washing is any easier on skin than frequent application of sanitizer. It is washing that is more likely to strip away cells (although is that really bad) and both kill or remove both good and bad organizms and leave your hands dry. Both are available with moisturizers. Unless you are really going to wash properly every time I would go with the sanitizer. It is more idiot proof.
posted by caddis at 7:50 AM on October 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Soap and water is good . Remember hand santizer is anti bacterial so it will help saminella but not get rid of flu or cold germs because those are virus.

So soap and water is good.

PS regular soap not anti bacterial soap.
posted by majortom1981 at 9:16 AM on October 14, 2010

I never understood anti-bacterial soap. Good old fashioned soap is good enough. It does the job without killing your immune system.
posted by InterestedInKnowing at 10:54 AM on October 14, 2010

Soap and water.
posted by Citrus at 12:42 PM on October 14, 2010

But wait, you'll never believe this, today is Global Hand Washing Day!
posted by haunted by Leonard Cohen at 12:43 PM on October 14, 2010

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