Which is Better? Soap and Water vs. Hand Sanitizer

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Which is Better? Soap and Water vs. Hand Sanitizer



By Rich Feczko: National Director of Systems, Standards, Innovation & Global Support 

Do you want to know the easiest way to tell if your hands are clean? Sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice while you lather and wash your hands with soap. It takes about 20 seconds. 

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Stopping the spread of germs and diseases that can be transmitted by others is a common health concern. We are often told the benefits of washing our hands with soap and water – the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends washing with soap and water as the best possible way to stay clean. Yet, grocery stores, office buildings and other public places now provide hand sanitizer while parents often carry disposable wipes to clean their children’s hands in restaurants or after any outdoor activity.   

 So which is best?  

Soap and Water vs. Hand Sanitizer 

While washing with soap and water is scientifically proven to be the best way to stay germ-free, hand sanitizer works in most situations. Hand sanitizer also provides an extraordinary level of convenience, accessible in small bottles that can be carried in a purse, kept in a desk drawer and each bathroom in the house. As a father of two teenage boys, I know it’s often quicker to get them to squirt the liquid into their hands than actually take the time to wash them! 

Why soap and water is better than hand sanitizer 

While sanitizer is incredibly convenient, there are some major drawbacks. For one, they may not kill some common germs and harmful bacteria, such as salmonella and staphylococcus. They also aren’t recommended for hands that are visibly dirty or greasy. 

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Everyone, not just healthcare workers, should be washing their hands with soap and water. The CDC recommends it for anyone doing the following activities.

When to wash your hands 

  • Before and after preparing food, or eating food  
  • Before and after using the restroom, treating a wound or changing a diaper 
  • Before, during and after caring for anyone who is sick 
  • After blowing your nose, including after coughing/sneezing 
  • After handling pets and pet food, and touching garbage 

It may seem silly, but it's true -- we really do teach all of our new associates to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice while they lather up as part of their training. The song is fun and catchy, easy to understand, is known around the world and can be sung in anyone’s native language.

When using a hand sanitizer is best 

Alcohol-based hand sanitizers that contain at least 60 percent alcohol are an easy and effective way to clean your hands. For our staff, alcohol-based hand sanitizers are recommended for associates that clean patient hospital rooms and prepare food. These products have the ability to kill germs in 15 seconds.  

To kill all germs, the CDC recommends applying hand sanitizer to the palm of one hand, and rubbing both hands together until they are dry. For hospital foam pump or gel type dispensing, typically this would equal 1 – 2 pumps.  

The importance of hand hygiene in preventing Healthcare Associated Infections (HAIs) 

We know how individuals can stop germs because we practice proper hand hygiene every day to prevent sickness, even death, in our hospitals. The CDC says that about one in 25 patients in the US becomes infected while they are in the hospital. Referred to as Healthcare Associated Infections, or HAIs, roughly 75,000 patients with HAIs die each year. 

Hand hygiene is critical in stopping this problem because an estimated 20-40 percent of HAIs are transmitted by the hands of healthcare personnel. Patients are infected by direct touching or by coming into contact with surfaces such as bed rails and toilet seats. Touching any surface in a patient’s hospital room or elsewhere in the hospital can be transmitted onto the hands of HCP and may spread disease-causing organisms. 

Unfortunately, the CDC notes that healthcare personnel practice hand hygiene about half the time they should. And this puts themselves, their patients, and their co-workers at risk for serious harm. 

To ensure all Crothall associates are properly trained, and have access to hand sanitizers that exceed CDC requirements, Crothall works with product suppliers that specialize in preventing diseases. We have an agreement GOJO Industries, the inventors of PURELL, as our preferred hand hygiene provider. They are also committed to making proper hand hygiene compliance easy for healthcare workers, patients and visitors. 

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In addition, for the past several years, we’ve had a partnership with Handwashingforlife® to help reduce the risk of HAIs and person-to-person illness. Our housekeeping staff is taught the science behind hand hygiene, the proper way to put on and take off gloves and correct gloving technique, and the importance of cleaning high-touch surfaces. 

It may seem unusual in this day and age to think that simply washing our hands properly can prevent so many diseases. But whether it’s at home, in a public place or in a hospital, take the time to ensure to protect yourself and others from spreading disease by simply taking 20 seconds to lather up, wash and dry.

Looking for more expertise? Keep up with Crothall on social media.

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Written by: Rich Feczko