An image of washing hands An image of washing hands An image of washing hands

Hand Washing vs. Hand Sanitizer

With everything happening in the world, it’s crucial you care to keep yourself healthy.  Keeping your hands clean is a daily practice you can enact to stay vital. 

Hand sanitizer’s rise In popularity.

As you navigate the turbulence of ‘socially distanced’ life, hand sanitizer sales have skyrocketed. 

For those of you still on the go, it’s a helpful product to have on hand. Alcohol-based sanitizers can kill up to 99% of germs on the skin. Whenever you don’t have access to soap and water, hand sanitizers are an easy, accessible solution.

However, though alcohol-based hand sanitizers have become a popular method for eliminating germs, washing your hands is still one of the most effective ways to kill bacteria on the surface of the skin, according to Harvard Health Publishing. In certain contexts, hand washing disinfects the skin in a way that sanitizers alone cannot achieve. 

Hand washing kills more germs than hand sanitizer.

For the majority of people, washing your hands is more about doing so consistently than it is about incorporating it into your routine.

The differences between hand sanitizer and hand washing are marginal but important. 

For example, according to the CDC, hand sanitizer is not capable of killing the number of germs that hand washing can. Multiple strains of bacteria that can cause infection are impervious to hand sanitizer’s cleansing properties. The same goes for harmful chemicals like heavy metals and pesticides. 

People also tend to use too little sanitizer or wipe their hands before it has fully dried. When hands are visibly greasy or dirty or have possibly come into contact with bacteria or noxious chemicals, the lather created by soap and water serves as a more effective means of breaking down pathogenic germs, as noted in The New York Times.  

How does soap work?

When hands are washed with soap and water, any microorganisms on the skin are surrounded by soap molecules. Soap molecules are hydrophobic and have a hybrid design, meaning their heads bond to water, while their tails are repelled by it. This allows their antimicrobial properties to work in tandem with water molecules, binding their bacteria-fighting lather to the oils and fats in whatever harmful substances our hands have come into contact with. 

The fragments of debris and destroyed viral elements are then trapped by soap within tiny bubbles called micelles, which wash away in water.

Soap and water work together to deliver maximum germ-killing power. Once soap molecules have breached the lipid layers of most viruses and microbes, and broken them apart, water comes in to remove them from your skin entirely. 

The combination of soap and water kills most germs that can threaten our immune system, and just one drop of regular soap combined with water will render many viral and bacterial strains ineffective. 

Recommended frequency and duration of wash time.

The amount of time you spend washing your hands is the true linchpin in this virus-killing equation. Washing for at least 15 seconds has been shown to kill up to 90% of germs on the skin, and adding an additional 15 seconds can kill up to 99.9%. So take the time to lather up well.

The appropriate frequency of hand washing is a key factor in protecting your health as well. To minimize the likelihood of becoming sick, you should wash your hands prior to food ingestion or preparation, and following bathroom use.

That said, it’s important not to ‘over-wash’ either. Your skin isn’t meant to be sterile; 25 to 30% of people have staph germs living on their skin with no ill effects. For optimal cleansing results, be sure to wash well and often, but not so much that skin incurs dryness or cracks. Because those very cracks are the conduits harmful bacteria use to work their way inside you.  

Help your cells win the microscopic battle. 

There is a battle for your health that happens on the microscopic level, and traditional hand washing remains one of the best ways to help push the balance in your favor. Hand washing is a constant reminder that your cellular health needs care and attention. Every time you reach for the faucet, remember that you are helping the “smallest” you: your cells.

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