I bet you have been hearing a lot of advise on frequent handwashing be it using soap and water or using a hand sanitizer. Have you ever wondered which is better? Or when should you perform handwashing? The word “frequent handwashing” may not be helpful as it could mean anything from every hour or even thrice a day!
No matter how clean the environment is, germs exist everywhere! As they are not visible to naked eyes, many people overlook the importance of handwashing. Washing of hands with soap and water or using a hand sanitizer containing at least 60% of alcohol, will not only reduce the risk of getting infected by these germs but also prevent the spread of these germs to others.
Which is more superior? Washing with soap and water or using alcohol-based hand sanitizer?
Logically speaking, many would think alcohol-based sanitizers are more superior compared to washing with just soap and water.
But the truth is, washing with soap and water wins anytime!
Washing with soap and water removes all types of germs from the hands while hand sanitizer acts by killing only certain germs.
Soap and water are more effective at removing certain germs, for example, norovirus (a virus causing vomiting or diarrhoea) and Cryptosporidium (a bacteria found in animals and contaminated water).
Hand sanitizers cannot remove harmful chemicals such as pesticides and heavy metals like lead.
Which is the best soap to use while washing hands?
No soap is more superior than the other. According to the U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there is no concrete evidence that over-the-counter (OTC) antibacterial soaps are better at preventing illness than washing with plain soap or water. Some of the antibacterial ingredients used; for example, triclosan may be harmful to the body when used for long term.
Are non-alcohol based sanitizers as effective as their alcohol-based counterpart?
Hand sanitizers that use active ingredients other than alcohol (ethanol), isopropyl alcohol, or benzalkonium chloride are not recommended because of unknown efficacy and safety profile.
In handwashing, it is vital to know when washing with soap and water is preferred over the use of hand sanitizers.
Dr. JoAnn Rajah is a child specialist that provides pediatric care to baby and children in Selangor and KL. Her core strength lies in diagnosing early signs of child health issues and guiding parents on how to manage them.