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Global Handwashing Day: Hand wash or sanitizer – What’s best for you?

Published on:15 October 2021, 07:00am IST
On the occasion of Global Handwashing Day, let’s find out what’s best to clean hands: soap and water, or a hand sanitizer?
Dr Suryasnata Das
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asthma and Diwali
Make sure to follow proper hand hygiene at all times. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
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The Global Hand Washing Day is celebrated every year on the 15th of October, since 2008, with campaigns being run to promote the washing of hands with soap as a quick, efficient, and cost-effective method to avoid illness and help save lives.

Hands are an integral part of our body that experience the most interactions with objects, people, as well as our own bodies. Consider how often you unconsciously contact your face with your hand throughout the day. Therefore, while head-to-toe hygiene is a high priority, there’s a strong focus now on keeping hands clean when it comes to preventing the spread of disease-carrying germs.

Benefits and drawbacks of hand soap and sanitizer

Hand sanitizers are very portable and can fit around in purses, pockets, and bags. They are great when water and soap aren’t readily available. This is the main and possibly the most important advantage of hand sanitizers.

However, the issue of hand sanitizers lies in the fact that they’re ineffective against certain kinds of viruses and bacteria. e.g. hand sanitizers cannot eliminate C. difficile, which is a kind of bacteria that can cause diarrhoea as a result of excessive use of antibiotics.

Global Handwashing Day
Wash your hands regularly, for the sake of your health. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Hand sanitizers that are not properly cleaned can leave behind a sticky residue that could make people feel uncomfortable. Additionally, sanitizers aren’t well-suited to removing grime or dirt from visibly soiled hands. Therefore, even though they are able to remove germs, they can’t eliminate dust, mud, grease, oils, or bodily fluids.

It’s clear that even though sanitizers work in certain scenarios, handwash is the most effective solution.

Most of the hand sanitizers are alcohol-based and are potentially inflammable. Therefore, they need to be handled with care and caution.

Why washing your hands is always the best option

The continuing Covid-19 pandemic has brought about major changes in the world of hygiene and health. Many people are now conscious of safeguarding themselves against the deadly coronavirus as best they can. Because our hands are in contact with an array of various surfaces at all times and could carry the strain, therefore, experts have advised us to ensure that our hands are kept clean most of  the time. 

Global Handwashing Day
Hand wash is a must! Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Hand sanitizers are a hit and have surpassed the fact that they’re only one of the options. Cleaning your hands using water and soap/hand soap is equally efficient and cost effective.

The majority of doctors think that hand wash (or soap with water) is more effective in eliminating bacteria than hand soaps and sanitizers. They recommend that sanitizers must only be used when soap and water aren’t readily available.

While hand sanitizers can remove certain bacteria and viruses, however, they don’t cleanse your hands as hand wash does. They leave behind dirt and other debris and leave your skin feeling slippery and sticky.  There are numerous alternatives for washing hands in the present, and each comes with its advantages and disadvantages. 

Although sanitizers may not be as thorough or efficient as traditional hand washes for antibacterial reasons, they are convenient and portable; making them an ideal choice in areas where hand washes are not an option.

Global Handwashing Day
Hand sanitisers must be used in conjunction with hand washing with soap. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
What is the best sanitizer to use?

Be sure that the sanitizer contains at minimum 70% alcohol content since it is alcohol that is responsible for the sanitation process. Sanitizers with less alcohol content are not effective against numerous pathogens.  Certain sanitizers in the market are advertised as “alcohol free sanitizers”. It is not recommended to use them since there isn’t enough evidence to prove that they are effective.  It is also important to follow all the steps of hand hygiene as there are grey areas on the hand which do not get cleaned.

When we do everything in the right way, we can ensure our safety and security.

Dr Suryasnata Das Dr Suryasnata Das

Dr Suryasnata Das, Associate Director, Microbiology, Department of Lab Medicine, Jaypee Hospital (Noida)