Hand Hygiene: From Sanitizers to Contact-Free Solutions
Hand hygiene is effective in preventing infections. Cleaning our hands can prevent the spread of germs, including those that are resistant to antibiotics. Unfortunately, the average healthcare provider washes their hands less than half of the time they should. And, as a result, on any given day, on average, one in 31 hospital patients has at least one healthcare-associated infection.
Why hand sanitizer is crucial
Hand sanitizer kills most bacteria on the majority of surfaces. Alcohol-based sanitizers can reduce about 97% of the bacteria on your hands. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends 60% alcohol content which has proven to kill over 99.9% of germs.
- Time-Saving - if there isn’t time to wash hands, sanitizer can be as effective but in far less time if done correctly - 30 seconds of using hand sanitizer kills as much bacteria as two full minutes of handwashing.
- Portable and Convenient - when soap, water, or a sink aren’t available, having access to portable sanitizers is an excellent option. There are small bottle sanitizer sizes that fit into a purse, hand pumps to have at a desk, wall-mounted units, or floor stands to offer access to hand sanitizer to employees and customers.
- Reduces employee sickness and absenteeism due to illness - proper hand hygiene can reduce absenteeism at work by up to 40%. Employees who use sanitizer at least five times each workday are 67% less likely to get sick.
Fact vs. Fiction
There have been misconceptions about alcohol-based hand sanitizers. Here are some truths regarding hand sanitizers.
- Hand Sanitizers DO NOT Cause Antibiotic Resistance – There is a myth that hand sanitizers can cause antibiotic resistance. This myth is not valid. Antibiotics are ingested, and they operate differently than alcohol-based sanitizers. The alcohol in the sanitizers quickly kills a broad spectrum of germs, and it does not remain on your skin to enable the germs to develop resistance. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has stated that the leading source of antibiotic resistance is the abuse of antibiotics.
- Alcohol-Based Hand Sanitizers DO NOT Cause Supergerms – The myth that alcohol-based hand sanitizers can create “super germs” is false. The truth is that ethyl alcohol, the primary element in some hand sanitizers, promptly kills the cell membranes and proteins. The alcohol is not left behind to let the germs become resistant or become what some people call “super germs.”
- Cross-contamination and germs - is the process of contaminating from one surface to another surface with bacteria and viruses. Bloodborne viruses can live on objects for up to a week. These germs will spread if the surfaces are not disinfected the right way or if the tools are not cleaned and sterilized between clients. After you use hand sanitizer, then don’t touch your face or a door, pet your cat, and then offer to make a sandwich for someone. Your hands are not clean.
- There is no “half-life” after using hand sanitizer – If you think that hand sanitizers will remain on your hands for hours, think again. Hand sanitizers can only protect for – not an hour - not half an hour – but for only two minutes!
- All Germs ARE NOT the Same - There are two different types of germs – transient organisms and resident organisms. The resident microorganisms live on the skin layers. Transient organisms are acquired by touching something. Therefore, they can be transmitted into your body or to someone else by other things you may have touched (i.e., cross-contamination), putting you and others at risk for illness.
- Sanitizers and formulations make a difference – true. Formulations that are alcohol-based and non-alcohol-based hand sanitizers are not the same; they are quite different. The truth is that the formulation matters.
- Hand drying formulas – stay away from anything that is a specific brand, such as Purell. Some brands do tend to be more drying. Some tend to be stickier. Again, this goes back to the formulation. Most hand sanitizers have some skincare option to minimize skin damage from repeated, daily use.
FAQ about Hand Sanitize
Is hand sanitizer effective against COVID-19?
Yes. As the CDC has indicated, the best way to decrease the spread of disease and infections is to scrub your hands with plain soap and water for at least 20 seconds. This is necessary, especially after using the restroom, before a meal, and after sneezing or coughing. In addition, the CDC recommends that if soap and water are not available to use a 60% alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
Should I use an antibacterial soap to wash my hands?
Currently, there is no evidence available that antiseptic wash products are any more effective. Some data suggest that antibacterial ingredients could do more harm than good in the long term, and more research is needed.
If I can’t find hand sanitizer, can I make my own?
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that consumers not make their hand sanitizer. If the sanitizer is made incorrectly, it can be ineffective, plus skin burns have been reported. In addition, the FDA does not have verifiable information on how the hand sanitizer is prepared at home and whether it is safe for use on human skin.
What do I do if I get an allergic rash or other reaction to hand sanitizer?
Call your doctor if you experience a severe reaction to hand sanitizer
If I add alcohol to my non-alcohol hand sanitizer, will it provide better protection against COVID-19
No. Adding any amount of alcohol to an existing non-alcohol hand sanitizer is unlikely to result in an effective product.
Does the FDA regulate all hand sanitizers?
Hand sanitizers are over-the-counter (OTC) drugs regulated by FDA.
Where should hand sanitizer be stored? It needs to be stored out of the reach, and sight, of children. The storage temperature is a maximum of 105°F (it should not be stored in a car during the summer).
Is hand sanitizer flammable?
Yes. Hand sanitizer is flammable. It should be stored away from heat or flame. It should be rubbed into hands until they feel dry before continuing activities that may involve heat, sparks, static electricity, or open flames.
Is hand sanitizer dangerous for children?
For children under six years of age, hand sanitizer should be used with adult supervision. Hand sanitizer is not dangerous for children; however, it is harmful when ingested. All it takes is to drink only a small amount, and it can lead to alcohol poisoning. There is no cause to be concerned if your child eats with or licks their hands after using hand sanitizer. It is also essential to keep the product out of the eyes. If a child ingests hand sanitizer, call poison control or a medical professional immediately.
Where should I use hand sanitizer?
Make sure to use it in a well-vented area. Hand sanitizer is typically used to clean hands, but it can also be used to remove germs from other items you use every day.
- Door handles - A study found that there could be as many as five distinct types of bacteria living on your front door handle. People come and go all day. Do you know what their hands have been doing? To protect yourself, wipe down handles and doorknobs with sanitizer before opening a door.
- Smartphones - There are over 25,000 bacteria per square inch on your smartphone. Put a bit of sanitizer on your screen to ward off germs.
- Keyboards - the average office desk has 400% more bacteria than the average household toilet seat. Remind yourself with a phone message to sanitize your desk at least once every workday. And as long as you’re cleaning, wipe down your table, your keyboard, and your mouse.
- Pens – There are over 200 bacteria per square inch on your pen. Businesses need to make sure they’re frequently wiping down the pens their customers use with sanitizer.
More than a year ago, the fear of the coming pandemic turned the business world on its head. Consumer behavior veered sharply, restaurants and hotels were quiet, lines formed outside grocery stores, and toilet paper was suddenly in short supply. Now, we are in recovery. The number of hand sanitizer units in healthcare, food service, industrial settings, lodging, and office facilities has nearly doubled. But, until we reach herd immunity, safety will be at the top of people’s minds. Data has shown that having better hand hygiene means a lower number of COVID infections and sicknesses.