Skip to content

Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

Font Size

Killing Flu Germs: What Works?

Will disinfectants help prevent flu in your family?

Flu Prevention Tip: Clean Your Hands

If you’ve got the urge to clean away flu germs, the best place to start is with your hands.

“Covering your mouth and washing your hands are the two most important ways to stop the spread of the flu,” Perl tells WebMD.

What should you wash with? You might assume that antibacterial soap would be preferable, but that’s the not the case. First of all, flu is caused by a virus, not bacteria. Second, any type of soap will do.

“Time and thoroughness are what matters when it comes to washing your hands,” says Schaffner. “Not the type of soap.” It’s the scrubbing that counts. You’re not killing the virus with soap so much as dislodging it from your skin and sending it down the sink drain.

The CDC recommends that you wash your hands for the length of time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice, about 15 to 20 seconds. Schaffner says that while 30 seconds would be ideal, he admits that this isn’t always possible.

“I’ve timed myself, and that can seem like a really long time,” Schaffner says. While it’s still a good goal, at the very least make sure that you’ve covered the surface of both hands and done it vigorously.

What about alcohol-based hand sanitizers? Flu experts are enthusiastic.

“I love the stuff,” Perl tells WebMD. She observes that one of its main advantages is that you can use it on the go, far away from sink. Just rub it in until it’s dry, she says, which usually takes just ten seconds or so.

“Gels are just as effective as soap and water at killing influenza virus,” says Schaffner. “We like both of them.”

Killing Flu Germs Around the Home and Office

Even if it may be an unlikely mode of transmission, it’s still conceivable that you could pick up the flu bug from a surface. So if you’d like, you can disinfect some of the areas in your home and office that are most likely to harbor flu germs.

Today on WebMD

hot toddy
15 tips to help you feel better.
man sneezing into elbow
Do echinacea and vitamin C really help a cold?
teen girl coughing
Get a good night’s rest with these remedies.
elder berry
Eat these to fight colds, flu, and more.
Natural Cold Flu Remedies Slideshow
cold weather
Allergy And Sinus Symptom Evaluator
Boy holding ear
woman receiving vaccine shot
woman with fever
Waking up from sleep
woman with sore throat