Why Soap and Water Is More Effective Than Hand Sanitizer Against COVID-19

Handwashing
Print icon

Store shelves may be wiped clean of hand sanitizer but soap is more effective for protecting yourself from COVID-19, according to infectious disease specialists.

“If at all possible, wash your hands with soap and water,” said Dr. Virginia Bieluch, the chief of infectious diseases at The Hospital of Central Connecticut, “If you can’t do that, then hand sanitizer is an acceptable alternative.”

Hand sanitizer, which contains ethyl alcohol, was found to be largely ineffective against the flu virus in a recent research study. It was only effective, the scientists revealed, if it was left on the skin for four minutes. Otherwise, mucus that contained the virus protected it against the sanitizer.

Hands should be washed for at least 20 seconds – the time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice, or 20-second choruses from popular tunes like “Raspberry Beret,” “Jolene” and “Karma Chameleon” for variety – with soap and water. Water temperature doesn’t matter as much as your hand washing technique.

The soap, Dr. Bieluch said, removes visible dirt from the hands and attacks viruses like flu and COVID-19. The viruses are encased in a fat coating that soap breaks apart so the virus cannot infect you. In addition, the act of rubbing your soapy hands together sloughs germs off and washes them down the drain.

Make sure you wash both sides of your hands, down to the wrist, and each fingernail and cuticle. Then dry them well, preferably on a paper towel you then throw away. The simple act of rubbing them dry with the paper helps shed any remaining germs.

When it comes to choosing a soap product, opt for liquid or foam. Bacteria can linger on a bar of soap, although rinsing it off before using it can help avoid someone else’s germs.

Dr. Bieluch suggested washing your hands more than usual, and especially at key times like:

  • Before preparing or eating food
  • After going to the bathroom
  • After blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing
  • After touching garbage
  • After changing a diaper or helping a child or senior in the bathroom
  • After helping someone who is sick

As Dr. Bieluch mentioned, hand sanitizer is acceptable if you can’t wash. If the sanitizer contains at least 62 percent alcohol, it can break through the fatty coating around the virus. Cover your hands with the gel and rub them together until they feel dry.

 

For more information on preventing COVID-19, or help if you or someone is feeling sick, go to hartfordhealthcare.org/coronavirus.

 


What's New

Walk on the Beach

Is it Safe to Take a Summer Vacation, Even Fly?

Distancing, both physical and social, is the buzzword of the year and one Hartford HealthCare (HHC) experts want you to remember as the state reopens and you begin venturing out of your home this summer. The warmer months, when kids are traditionally of school, are a time when many people...

COVID and Pets

CDC’s COVID-19 Update Spares Pets, Downgrades Threat of Infected Surfaces

COVID-19 spreads more person-to-person than surface-to-person or animal-to-person, according to the latest update guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The person-to-person spread surprises no one, but the CDC has downgraded the risk of  touching a contaminated surface, then infecting yourself by touching your nose, eyes or mouth....


Windham paramedic program honors 25 years

Since its inception 25 years ago, the paramedic program at Windham Hospital has saved countless lives, built partnerships with 16 fire departments and served the 400-square-mile community around the hospital. In 1995, the town of Windham recognized the need for paramedic or advanced life support services in the Windham and...

Public Restroom

Is it Safe to Use a Public Bathroom During COVID-19?

As the country reopens, state by state, is there public trust in public restrooms? Put it this way: At last check, New York’s subway system had one bathroom per 53,000 riders. In Connecticut, public restrooms remain closed at most state parks. Elsewhere, will people change their hygiene habits when in...

COVID-19 Blood

Where to Get a COVID-19 Antibody Test, And Why

During the COVID-19 surge in Connecticut, diagnostic tests  performed with a nasal swab were critical in determining who had been infected with the coronavirus. Now, as the state’s economy reopens, a blood test is helping health professionals detect an immune response in people who were infected and also identify people were...

Depression

New: COVID-Related Behavioral Health Hotline

In any catastrophe, the medical needs must be tended first, followed by a wave of behavioral health issues that can last for months and years. The COVID-19 infection rate peaked in Connecticut at the end of April and now the Hartford HealthCare Behavioral Health Network (BHN) is preparing for increased demand...

Skin Cancer

If a Spot Looks Like This, it Could be Skin Cancer

The sun feels amazing on your face after a wet, dismal spring, but just a few moments of unprotected exposure can bring even more dismal consequences. During Skin Cancer Awareness Month, Dr. Girish Mohan, director of cosmetic and laser dermatology with Hartford HealthCare Dermatology, wants to remind people that protecting...