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Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

Hand Sanitizers: Do They Help Stop All Germs?

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So, is hand washing better than hand sanitizers to prevent infection spread?

Both are important, say Glatt and Brian Sansoni, spokesman for the American Cleaning Institute.

"Soap and water are number one," says Sansoni. "Hand sanitizers are a very effective additional tool."

The sanitizers are meant to supplement, not replace, good old-fashioned soap and water washing, Sansoni says.

The CDC agrees. It says that for norovirus, washing hands is your best prevention, especially after using the bathroom, changing a diaper, and before eating and doing food prep. Sanitizers may help, but “they are not a substitute for washing with soap and water.”

They also can be used if soap and water aren’t available, the CDC says.

What is the best way to wash hands?

Proper hand washing involves ''20 to 30 seconds of vigorous scrubbing with soap and warm water,” Glatt says. “It's the physical rubbing that does a lot of the work. But the soap is important."

What is the best way to use hand sanitizers?

To use hand sanitizers properly, use one or two squirts or pumps, Sansoni says. Rub hands together briskly, front and back, between fingers, around and under the nails, until hands are dry.

If you have a sick child, what can help contain those germs?

Use normal household cleaning agents such as bleach to wipe down surfaces such as diaper-changing tables, Glatt says.

"Pay careful attention to infection control," he says. "Wash [hands] with soap and water before preparing food. If you are sick, don't prepare food.''

Those with more than one child should be careful to wash their hands between tending to the sick child, such as diaper changing, and tending to the well child, he says.

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