How to decide between hand sanitizer and a sink

Did you know that we are right in the middle of Clean Hands Week? It’s true! So, when it comes to eliminating pesky germs from our busy hands, which is better: hand sanitizer or the tried-and-true sink and suds? We asked the man who knows a thing or two about eliminating bacteria, Scott Stienecker, MD, FACP, FSHEA, FIDSA, CIC, Medical Director Epidemiology and Infection Prevention.

Pump it up.
Hand sanitizer is appropriate when there is no visible proteinaceous debris visible on the hands.  Hands can get irritated if you use too much alcohol gel, but that rarely happens. Gel is the best option when water and soap are not available.

To use hand sanitizer:

  • With foam, use a golf ball-size amount.
  • With gel, fill your palm.
  • Work the substance into skin until mostly absorbed.
  • Keep hands moist for 2 minutes after applying.

Find a faucet.
In all other cases, soap and water should be used. In general, plain soap and water is fine. There is no major risk of washing hands too much. Hand washing is preferred when visibly soiled or when dealing with C difficile (a bacterial species found in feces of humans and animals).

To wash your hands:

  • Apply soap and water and massage for 20-30 seconds (no fewer than 15 seconds).


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