What’s the Best Choice for Clean Hands?

Hand sanitizer? Soap? Antibacterial Soap? What to choose?

By Gwendolyn Zepeda May 1, 2014

Image: Luke Bott

It seems like everywhere you look these days, you see hand sanitizer—hanging from kids’ lunchboxes, outside grocery stores, sitting on teachers' desks. It can be very convenient, too, as soap and water isn’t always handy when you’re trying to keep children clean on the go. 

Did you know?

The CDC recommends that a hand sanitizer have at least 60 percent alcohol to be effective.

But can sanitizer really replace regular old soap? And if you do use it, with so many products out there, what’s the best one? There’s alcohol-based hand sanitizer, of course, sold as wipes and gels, as well as antibacterial cleanser, made with chemical compounds created to kill bacteria or slow its growth, and found in hand-sanitizing gel, cleansing wipes, facial products, dish soap, kitchen sponges, and a host of other products.

Dr. Peter Jung, a pediatrician affiliated with Children's Memorial Hermann, has advice for parents. “In general, plain soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizers are preferred over antibacterial hand cleansers,” he says. “Antibacterial products have not been shown to confer any extra benefit beyond regular soap.” In fact, Dr. Jung warns that antibacterial cleansers “may increase the risk of selecting for antibiotic-resistant germs,” meaning they encourage the breeding of bacteria that can survive exposure to the chemicals meant to kill them.

Did you know?

You need to use at least a teaspoon of hand sanitizer for it to be effective at killing germs on your hands. 

Antibiotic resistance in bacteria, caused in part by unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions and the antibiotics fed to the livestock we eat, is causing growing concern in the medical profession. With that in mind, parents should carefully read labels on the cleaning products they buy. They should also remember that soaping up and scrubbing your hands for 20 seconds under running water, that tried-and-true method, works wonders. 

Filed under
Show Comments