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DebMed Blog: Healthcare Hygiene Matters

Hand Sanitizer vs. Soap and Water: Which Hand Hygiene Method Should You Use?

Posted by DebMed on Sep 10, 2015 9:30:00 AM

When it comes to cleaning one's hands in a healthcare setting, the general rule of thumb is to use soap and water to wash hands if they are visibly soiled. Otherwise, hand sanitizer is sufficient. Let’s take a closer look at this rule.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), washing with soap and water is the best way to reduce the number of microbes on them in most situations.  If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol.


The CDC experts explain that hand sanitizers with an alcohol concentration of 60 percent to 95 percent are very effective at killing germs and, therefore, can reduce the number of microbes on a person's hands quickly and easily. Experts warn that hand sanitizers don't eliminate all bacteria, and they caution that soap and water is more effective against specific types of germs, such as norovirus.

For the CDC, the bottom line is that hand sanitizers work well in clinical settings like hospitals, where hands come into contact with germs but generally are not heavily soiled or greasy. Healthcare workers can rest easy in their reliance on alcohol-based hand sanitizers as a "go-to" product in their arsenal for preventing the spread of germs and hospital-acquired infections.

Proper technique is just as important as using the right product. When using hand sanitizers, remember to use an adequate quantity of the product (a dime-sized amount) to ensure the sanitizer lasts on hands for 20-30 seconds. When using soap and water, ensure that the entire hand washing procedure lasts 40-60 seconds to ensure clean hands.

Whether healthcare personnel rub hands with the sanitizer or soap up, they do so frequently throughout the day. The World Health Organization advocates My Five Moments for Hand Hygiene as the best practice in hand hygiene calling for washing or sanitizing before patient contact; before an aseptic procedure; after body fluid exposure; after patient contact; and after contact with the patient’s surroundings. To help protect hands of hospital workers from irritation, dryness and contact dermatitis, purchasing staff should choose hydrating and protective skin-care products, foaming alcohol-based hand rubs, and soaps with emollients. A bit of lotion at the end of the shift will also help soothe the skin.

Squeaky-clean hands can also be soft and healthy!


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Topics: hand hygiene, sanitizer, soap

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The DebMed blog is the go-to source for hand hygiene and infection prevention related discussions occurring in the healthcare industry. Join the conversation! All readers are invited to comment, share stories and information, and post articles of interest.

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