Studies have shown that good hand hygiene can help slow the transmission of the coronavirus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that using soap and water is the best way to kill germs. If that’s not available, the CDC recommends using a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
According to Forbes, the reason soap is the superior choice over sanitizers is that it can break down the fatty layer that envelopes virus molecules in 30 seconds. That’s because soap contains amphiphilic molecules, which attach to the fatty membrane of the virus and dissolve it. Hand sanitizers also have these molecules, but take much longer to break down the outer layer than soap does. A Japanese study revealed that it takes 4 minutes for hand sanitizers to kill the flu virus.
In order for the sanitizer to be effective, you have to use it correctly. According to Huffpost, you should use enough to cover all surfaces of your hands. Many people only use a dab on their palms and that’s not sufficient to disinfect. “Too much is better than too little,” said Dr. Zeke J. McKinney of Minnesota’s HealthPartners Riverway Clinic. The World Health Organization offers these tips on how to apply sanitizer correctly.
Another reason that washing your hands with soap and water works better is that the friction used when scrubbing your hands can get into every nook and cranny, destroying more pathogens and sending them down the drain, according to Forbes.
While there aren’t a lot of studies on the efficacy of soap or hand sanitizers in killing the SARS-CoV-2 virus responsible for COVID-19, experts say that while soap and water is still the preferred choice, using sanitizer is still better than not washing your hands altogether.
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