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Which Hand Washing Cleansers Fight Germs Best?

Researchers Compare Effectiveness of Hand Rubs, Hand Wipes, Soap and Water
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WebMD Health News

March 11, 2005 -- When it comes to hand washinghand washing, using soap and water is still one of the best bets for good hygiene.

That's not to dismiss other methods, such as waterless hand rubs or hand wipes, which may also help. Whatever hand cleanser you choose, use it for at least 10 seconds and consider washing your hands a couple of times a day, just to be on the safe side, researchers suggest.

"Our study showed that the antimicrobial hand washing agents were significantly more effective in reducing bacteria than the alcohol-based hand rubs and waterless hand wipes," writes William Rutala, PhD, MPH, a professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The finding is especially important for health care professionals -- and their patients. "Health-care associated infections rank in the top five causes of death, with an estimated 90,000 deaths each year in the United States," the study shows.

Studies have repeatedly shown that good hand hygiene by health care workers can help avoid those infections. Likewise, people who keep their hands clean may have fewer colds or other illnesses.people who keep their hands clean may have fewer colds or other illnesses.

But with so many hand cleaners on the market, which are best at removing bacteria and viruses? And how long does it take to scrub, rub, or wipe your hands clean?

Testing the Cleansers

To find out, 62 volunteers rolled up their sleeves and got their hands dirty in the name of science.

First, they washed their hands with plain old soap without any microbe-fighting agents. Next, their hands were covered with liquid laden with a harmless bacterium and virus. Those bugs were chosen because they mimic more threatening germs.

Then, the clock started ticking. Volunteers had 10 seconds to use the hand-cleaning product assigned to them.

That's how long health care workers typically take to wash their hands, according to the study. Previous research has tested 30-second hand washing sessions, but that's not always done in real life, say the researchers.

Cleansers included waterless hand rubs, waterless hand wipes, and antimicrobial soaps. For comparison, the volunteers also tried using plain soap and water, as well as tap water alone.

Each person tried their assigned products 10 times. That let the researchers see if the cleansers' effectiveness changed with repeated use. The bacterium and virus levels were measured after the first, third, fifth, seventh, and 10th trials of each product.

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