Amid continuing concerns about the most effective ways to clean hands and avoid coronavirus, federal health experts indicate that hand sanitizer and antibacterial soap provides no advantage over regular soap and water, recommending that consumers wash their hands with plain soap and water for at least 20 seconds as the most effective method to decrease the risk of getting sick.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a hand sanitizer Q & A on April 13, indicating hand sanitizers are designed only for when clean water sources and soap are not readily available.
Due to the rapidly increasing spread of the novel coronavirus that causes the respiratory disease COVID-19, demand for hand sanitizer products have spiked, leaving top manufacturers such as Johnson & Johnson and Procter & Gamble’s stockpiles nearly depleted.
The FDA recently issued guidance for the temporary preparation of alcohol-based hand sanitizers by some companies and pharmacies during the public health emergency posed by COVID-19. However, both the FDA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend antibacterial soaps only be used if soap and water are not available.
The agencies recommend that consumers always wash their your hands with soap and water before just using a topical hand sanitizer, as currently, there is no scientific evidence that topical solutions are more effective means of killing germs over normal hand washing.
Consumers using hand sanitizers are encouraged to use alcohol-based products containing at least 60% alcohol, and to dry hands afterwards for the solution to be effective in killing bacteria.
A study published by the American Society for Microbiology in September 2019 compared the effectiveness of different hand washing and hand sanitizer methods commonly used today, and found that when only using topical bacterial soaps such as Purell, it can take more than four minutes to deactivate wet mucus containing the common flu virus, potentially giving individuals a false sense of security.
Researchers of the September 2019 study found it took about 30 second to deactivate germs in dry mucus. When comparing the effectiveness of sole hand sanitizer use against antiseptic hand washing (AHW) with water for 20 seconds, AHW rapidly inactivated the influenza A virus faster than any other method, regardless of whether the mucus was wet or dry on the participants hands.
If consumers do use hand sanitizer products, the FDA recommends they always be stored appropriately and out of reach from young children to avoid accidental poisoning risks.
In 2018, poison control centers nationwide received more than 12,000 hand sanitizer poisoning reports involving children twelve years of age and under. More than 70,000 reports of child hand sanitizer poisoning were recorded by the agency from 2011 to 2014, involving both alcohol based and non-alcohol based hand sanitizers.