During the flu season, you often see people carry little bottles of hand sanitizer with them wherever they go. They use it as a quick, convenient way to make sure their hands stay “washed” at all times. Lots of hand sanitizer bottles claim that they kill as much as 99.9 percent of the germs on your hands. It sounds like an excellent tool to help keep you from getting sick when everyone else around you seems to be.
But does hand sanitizer really work?
How Does It Work?
Hand sanitizer works because it has a very high concentration of alcohol, and alcohol kills germs. It can kill most bacteria and viruses, although it isn’t effective at removing dirt or other grime from your hands. When you rub the hand sanitizer into your skin, the alcohol instantly kills just about all the germs it comes in contact with.
Is It Effective?
Yes, hand sanitizer is effective at killing the germs on your hands. It even helps slow down the build up of new germs after it’s used much more effectively than soap and water. Hand sanitizer is effective, and it’s often more effective than regular hand washing because most people don’t wash their hands properly. It’s easier to disinfect your hands with hand sanitizer, because it’s instantaneous, whereas regular hand washing requires that you rub the soap long enough – about 30 seconds – and rinse with warm water, and then dry.
Will It Keep You Healthy?
Even though hand sanitizer is very effective at killing germs, it does not necessarily keep you from getting sick. Washing germs of your hands is only one way to prevent sickness. Germs can enter your body from many other places, especially by you breathing them in through your nose. While hand sanitizer can help stop the germs on your hands from entering your body, it does not mean you can’t get sick in other ways that commonly cause illness.
Should You Use It?
If you want to do everything you can to keep from getting sick, hand sanitizer can help you when you’re not able to immediately or properly wash your hands. The convenience of it makes it a great thing to keep with you for those “just in case” moments. It’s not highly recommended that you use hand sanitizer all the time, however, and it shouldn’t replace soap and water. Alcohol is very drying to the skin, and it can also kill the good bacteria that live on your body. Using hand sanitizer all the time can weaken your body’s natural defenses against illnesses.
What Else Can You Do?
If you’re sure to take care of yourself as best as possible during the flu season, you can give yourself a good chance at avoiding the sickness. Use hand sanitizer occasionally, but also wash your hands with soap and water several times per day. Also be sure to disinfect surfaces that you touch often in your home, and try to avoid touching many surfaces in public.
Hailey McAllister is a health care professional and blogger who likes to cover anything from health insurance tips to the truth about common cleaning agents such as hand sanitizer.