Coronavirus: Soap and Water or Hand Sanitizer?

Both work, but experts say one of these methods has the upper hand.

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washing hands in sink coronavirus

Clean hands prevent the spread of germs, including coronavirus, so lots of us are spending more time scrubbing up, singing “Happy Birthday” to ourselves and trying not to touch things.

But inevitably we must touch something so what then? Soap and water remains the top choice for washing up, experts say, especially when your hands are visibly dirty. In fact, scientists have remarked that soap actually dissolves the lipid membrane of coronavirus, making it a very effective weapon that we all have on hand.

Even before the outbreak, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control promoted humble soap and water as the preferred method for getting hands clean.

“Don’t forget your thumbs. There’s a lot of stuff that doesn’t get cleaned off thumbs,” advises Dr. Kathleen Sullivan, chief of allergy and Immunology at the Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania.

She’s been recording videos about coronavirus for the Immune Deficiency Foundation, which serves patients who have primary immunodeficiencies.

If you want to test your handwashing knowledge, take our quiz.

And yet hand sanitizer flew off the shelves as the coronavirus outbreak worsened. The alcohol-based gel also works, according to the CDC and other experts. But just as there’s a right way to wash your hands -with soap and water for at least 20 seconds – there’s also a preferred method for using hand sanitizer.

Use a gel with at least 60% alcohol, Sullivan said. And though it feels wet to the touch, resist the urge to wipe off your hands after using it. Rub it in and let it dry completely, according to the CDC’s tips for sanitizer use.

“You really need for that alcohol gel to dry on your hands to kill things,” Sullivan said. “Does it kill everything? No, soap and water is still better.”

Sullivan, when advising immune deficiency patients, recommends they fully commit and scrub up for 30 seconds, 10 seconds longer than the CDC minimum. But for convenience sake, keep a little bottle of hand sanitizer with you, too, she said.