It’s on everyone’s minds. The coronavirus has led to a global health pandemic and we’re all doing our best to navigate these uncertain times. Social distancing, hand washing, and following the direction of public health officials will help keep the broader community safe and minimize the spread of this virus.
There is a reason why health officials are telling us to be diligent about washing our hands. So what is better, soap or sanitizer for hand hygiene? It turns out soap is better, hands down. Read on to find out why.
Before reading up on this, I was going to share a DIY recipe for hand sanitizer. Many stores are completely sold out and have been for weeks. This does not help to quell the panic and anxiety that many are feeling. As I looked into it, I discovered that many of the DIY sanitizer recipes do more to calm peoples’ nerves than actually prove effective. You see, there is a science to the effectiveness of hand sanitizer that can’t be left to most home labs. Effective sanitizers, when used correctly, will help to kill viruses though they need at least 60% alcohol content (cdc.gov/handwashing) and even then, they don’t kill all germs. A good hand sanitizer should be used when hand washing is unavailable, but they won’t work well on visibly dirty or greasy hands. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends two formulations which can be found here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK144054/ and these should be followed exactly to produce a reliable product.
It turns out that using soap with vigorous hand washing is the best way to kill the virus on your skin. An article on the science of soap and how it kills viruses including the coronavirus can be found here: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/mar/12/science-soap-kills-coronavirus-alcohol-based-disinfectants . The key takeaway: “soap dissolves the fat membrane of the virus – and the virus falls apart like a house of cards” rendering it inactive, making soap the clear winner over sanitizer in hand hygiene.
Bottom line: regular and thorough handwashing is imperative. Using soap is better for hand hygiene but alcohol-based hand sanitizers are essential when handwashing with soap is not possible or impractical.
The WHO has a great video on proper hand washing here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3PmVJQUCm4E