Sanitizer Works, but Hand Washing Works Better. See Why

If you haven’t gotten the memo to wash your hands regularly, especially now with COVID-19 floating around, it’s time to break out the soap and get scrubbing. But something that’s not as clear is whether you should stock up on hand sanitizer, or even make your own if the Jumia prices are giving you heartburn.

So, what do the experts recommend? Wash your hands whenever possible, and if you can’t get to a sink, sanitizer is good, too (both the kind from the store and the kind you can make). Here’s the breakdown of why soap comes first, and why sanitizer has its pros and cons.

What is sanitizer, and how does it work?

hand sanitizers dispenserHand sanitizer is essentially isopropyl alcohol, plus gel, plus fun-smelling essential oils if you’re so inclined. At first, hospitals and other healthcare centers used the solution as a quick fix for doctors who didn’t necessarily have a second to go to the restroom to disinfect between patients.

The way sanitizer works is primarily through the power of alcohol. Alcohol can “murder” many types of bacteria and viruses by destroying their outermost layer, rendering them unable to take over a host. This isn’t effective with viruses with a hard outer shell, like norovirus. Still, in a pinch, it’ll keep you protected from a lot of the invisible gunk you might pick up on mass transportation or a public restroom.

How does Soaps work?

Soap works a little differently. Instead of killing viruses and bacteria, its purpose is to lift away dirt, oil, and other dangerous agents that get on your hands. Sanitizer doesn’t remove anything: It only disinfects bacteria and viruses and can leave pesticides or spores on your hands.

Washing away the coronavirus might not sound as violent as stopping it dead in its tracks, but it’s proven to be more effective, especially for pathogens wrapped up in mucus.

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