Hand sanitizing products come in various forms ranging from gels to wipes — but the question prevails as to whether they work as effectively as soap and water. While sanitizer undoubtedly plays a role in removing germs, it should never be used to replace traditional hand washing technique. Rather, hand sanitizer should only be used in tandem with handwashing to ensure proper hygiene – or when soap and water are unavailable.
While both handwashing and hand sanitizing are good hygiene practices, each has its own respective time and place. Handwashing, for instance, is a great way to remove dirt and grease, as well as pesticides and heavy metals; hand sanitizing, on the other hand, may not be as effective for those particular purposes. According to the CDC, “many studies show 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.” Rather, hand sanitizers work more effectively to reduce the number of microbes on your hands, but only when they are not physically dirty. In fact, the same principle holds true for surfaces like countertops or tables; if they are visibly dirty or soiled, they need to be cleaned before they can be effectively sanitized or disinfected. Studies have shown that hand wipes are more effective than gels at removing dirt and germs from hands.
The effectiveness of handwashing is seen in the physical removal of debris, germs, bacteria, and viruses. Rubbing your hands together with soap and water creates friction that dislodges the debris and germs on your skin, making it more effective at removing them than hand sanitizer. Due to the limitations of hand sanitizer, handwashing is critical.
For people who work in the foodservice industry, the importance of maintaining hygiene cannot be stressed enough — it is a matter of public safety and legal compliance. Regularly preparing raw meat exposes food workers’ hands to various germs and bacteria that can cause foodborne illnesses to those they serve. Closely abiding by proper handwashing techniques ensures not only the customers’ health and safety, but also a business’s stability. Foodborne illness outbreaks can cost an operator millions and even lead to shutting down.
Soaps and detergents are both types of surfactants, a surface-active agent. The surfactant agent present in both of these cleaners features a hydrophilic head and hydrophobic tail. This molecular chain, in other words, features one end that is attracted to water and one end that repels water. In short, these opposing forces go to work when you rub your hands together, lifting the debris and germs off of your hands and cleaning them in the process.
The difference between soaps and detergents lies in their ingredients and how they are made. Soaps, on the one hand, are made by mixing fats and oils with a base; while detergents, on the other hand, are made by combining petroleum products and additional synthetic and artificial fragrances. In other words, soaps are natural while detergents are synthetic.
Many commercial applications use detergent rather than soap. The chemical elements behind detergents more effectively remove heavy-duty grime and grease. In addition to that, they do not react as unfavorably as soaps do when coming into contact with hard water and are not as finicky in varying water temperatures.
According to the CDC, the following are the best handwashing techniques to ensure cleanliness:
Since hand washing does a better overall job at removing dirt, grease, and germs from your hands than hand sanitizing does, the FDA Food Code mandates handwashing in the following situations:
Hand sanitizing is a helpful way to remove germs when soap and water are not readily available. However, it is important to take note that hand sanitizer does not kill everything. If anything, hand sanitizer should always be used in tandem with hand washing, as often as possible.
The combination of ingredients in hand sanitizer is what makes it effective. In most cases, you’ll find a combination of alcohol (ethanol or ethyl alcohol), isopropyl alcohol, and/or benzalkonium chloride. These active ingredients are used as an antiseptic and work well to remove most germs.
For the most effective results, use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol and follow these instructions:
Download this resource for full instructions on how to sanitize hands using a wipe.
Although washing your hands may take precedence, using either hand sanitizer or hand sanitizing wipes is your next best bet if soap and water are not nearby. Using sanitizer is beneficial and convenient in the following situations:
Keeping your hands clean is one of the hallmarks of good hygiene. Unfortunately, soap and water aren’t always readily available, so having reliable alternatives becomes both necessary and practical. Make sure that you invest in an effective hand sanitizer as an extra layer of protection.