One of the best ways to prevent a coronavirus infection is by washing your hands with soap and water, and when soap and water are not available, public health experts say that alcohol-based hand sanitizer is the best alternative.
But how effective are gels and sprays at killing dangerous germs like the coronavirus? Here are seven things you need to know about hand sanitizers.
1. Hand sanitizer kills germs but does not clean hands
When it comes to controlling illnesses, soap and water are indisputable victors, yet they don’t kill germs; rather, they eradicate them. The mechanism of hand washing is responsible for this duo’s effectiveness.
According to Maryanne McGuckin, an infection prevention specialist and author of The Patient Survival Guide: 8 Simple Solutions to Prevent Hospital- and Healthcare-Associated Infections, rubbing and rubbing between the palms of the hands creates finger friction, which breaks the structure of bacteria and loosens germs from your skin.
Germs wash away when you wash your hands under flowing water. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers, on the other hand, kill bacteria on the skin, or at least most germs.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), hand sanitizer is less effective at killing Cryptosporidium, norovirus, and Clostridium difficile, all of which cause diarrhoea.
However, scientists have a suspicion.
Also, hand sanitizers don’t work as well if your hands are visibly dirty or greasy, and they may not remove dangerous chemicals like pesticides and heavy metals like lead.
2. Sanitizer is more effective than soap and water in certain situations
Since hand washing — when done correctly — eliminates germs and filth better, hand sanitizer should, in most situations, be used as a backup to soap and water.
“When you don’t have access to a sink with clean water and a towel, you should use hand sanitizer,” advises Elaine Larson, emeritus professor of epidemiology at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and resident scholar at the New York Academy of Medicine.
In some cases, such as before and after visiting a friend or loved one in a hospital or nursing home, the CDC suggests using hand sanitizer first.
(This is why dispensers are frequently found outside of patient rooms.)
When entering and exiting the room, a small amount of disinfectant decreases the risk of introducing or contracting a deadly virus.
When using hand sanitizer, it’s also a good idea.
3. Not all hand sanitizers are the same
The CDC suggests using a hand sanitizer that has at least 60% alcohol to kill most disease-causing germs.
Using a lesser amount may be less effective “in killing many types of bacteria” and may “merely impede the growth of germs rather than killing them directly,” according to the CDC.
When comparing goods, look for benzalkonium chloride instead of alcohol in hand sanitizers.
The CDC, on the other hand, does not endorse these products since “available evidence suggests that benzalkonium chloride is less efficient against certain germs and viruses” than alcohol-based disinfectants.
4. Disinfection technique is important
Hand sanitizer works best when used correctly. Apply the recommended amount to the palm of the hand (make sure there is enough to cover the entire surface of the hands) and distribute the disinfectant evenly, paying special attention to the fingertips, “because it is the part that touches more things, ”explains Larson.
Keep rubbing your hands with the sanitizer until your skin is completely dry, which should take about 20 seconds. Larson and McGuckin agree that this step is essential.
“Alcohol is effective in killing viruses and most bacteria, but the problem we found is that people don’t use the right amount for the required amount of time,” adds McGuckin.
5. Cleaning products are not a substitute for hand sanitizer.
Sanitizer sprays and antibacterial wipes should not be used as a substitute for hand sanitizer. These products are for “hard, non-porous surfaces,” and not for human skin, says the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Regardless, they are being used for this purpose by certain people. According to a CDC analysis released in early June, about a third of individuals in a recent survey engaged in “high-risk non-recommended behaviors” with cleaning chemicals in an attempt to avoid coronavirus infection.
The use of bleach on food, the use of household cleansers and disinfectants on the skin, and the inhalation or ingestion of cleaning and disinfectant products are all harmful activities.
6. Hand sanitizer can be dangerous
If ingested, hand sanitizer can be hazardous, especially to youngsters. It has the potential to irritate the throat lining and induce gastrointestinal issues.
According to the FDA, “drinking even a modest amount” of alcohol can induce alcohol poisoning in youngsters. Call a poison control centre or a medical expert right away if you or your child ingests hand sanitizer.
Hand sanitizers can potentially catch fire. CDC advises hospitals, nursing homes, and other healthcare facilities to store alcohol-based hand sanitizers carefully and away from sources of ignition, despite the fact that the occurrence of fires caused by these products is “extremely low.”
Due to the potential of flammability, the US Postal Service has placed limits on the mailing of alcohol-based hand sanitizers.
7. Homemade hand sanitizer can be ineffective.
In this era of the pandemic, recipes for homemade hand sanitizer abound on the internet. But the FDA, which regulates hand sanitizers, says it’s best to leave the production of germ-killing gels to the professionals.
“If improperly produced, hand sanitizer can be ineffective, and cases of skin burns caused by homemade hand sanitizer have been reported,” the agency says.
Also, adding alcohol to a bottle of alcohol-free hand sanitizer will not increase the potency of the sanitizer. The FDA says that “the result is unlikely to be an effective product.”