When To Use Soap and Water vs Hand Sanitizer

When To Use Soap and Water

vs Hand Sanitizer

Health     Hand Sanitizer     Soap     COVID-19

It’s advice that we’ve all heard countless times: “wash your hands to avoid getting sick.” During a global pandemic, those words are even more appropriate. As COVID-19 continues to spread at a record pace, taking every possible measure to stay indoors and healthy is at an all-time high. In the quest to keep hands as clean and germ free as possible, there are two main options: soap and water and hand sanitizer.  


While head to toe hygiene is important, the hands come in contact with so many things throughout the day. Making sure that you’re doing everything possible to prevent the spread of disease is a priority. However, which option is considered to be the best?


The following article will help you better understand the circumstances where soap and water or hand sanitizer should be used.

According to the CDC, you can’t go wrong when using soap and water. Because germs are everywhere, hand washing is always viewed as the first and best option because it reduces the presence of all germs. There really isn’t a situation that soap and water can’t fix. From the office to medical settings, having access to soap and water provides the best opportunity to stay clean and healthy. Although not an expansive list, using soap and water is best:

  • Before, during, and after the preparation of food  
  • Before eating (In your own house or at a restaurant)
  • While caring for someone that is ill  
  • Before and after treating cuts or wounds
  • After touching and handling garbage
  • After blowing your nose or coughing into your hand
  • After using the bathroom
  • If your hands are visibly dirty and greasy
  • After changing and disposing of a diaper  
  • After playing with animals or handling animal food

As you can see, soap and water can be used in all types of circumstances. Specifically when tending to people who are sick, soap and water is the best method to not only clean your hands but prevent the spread of disease.

Soap is composed of molecules known as “amphiphiles”. These types of molecules have what is known as a dual nature composition. While one end of the molecule is attracted to water and repels proteins, the other end is attracted to proteins and repels water. The dual experience provided by amphiphiles make them so effective because they clean the areas of your hand without causing damage.

For example, after preparing a delicious meal for yourself, soap works by first having the fat loving side of the molecule break down grease and protein left on your hand. The water loving side of soap then takes over, allowing the soiled particles to wash off easily.

The result are hands that both look and feel clean.

You may think that you know everything about washing your hands. Although that may be true, you can never be too careful. Many people believe that they have to use hot water to have the most effective hand washing experience. While there are studies that claim to have found a positive correlation between hot water and cleaner hands, the scientific community has not come to a definitive conclusion. Ultimately, it comes down to this: hot water that is comfortable enough to wash your hands with is not hot enough to kill bacteria.  


The most important aspect of hand washing is not the temperature of the water but the quality of the lather. Different studies have shown that (on average) a person should lather their hands for at least 20 seconds. And by lather, this only accounts for the time when you’re rubbing your hands together and not the process of turning your facet on and off.

You might be wondering why 20 seconds is commonly advised. Because skin is naturally wrinkled, it takes time for soap to make its way inside of the folds and combat the various germs and bacteria that may be on your hands.


There will be circumstances where you still feel dirt or grease on your hands after 20 seconds. The 20 second statement is by no means a one size fits all scenario. Continue lathering until you feel as though the entire surface of your hands are clean.


In order to make the most of your hand washing experience try to follow these guidelines:

  • Wet your hands with running water (Remember, the temperature does not matter)
  • Place a quarter sized amount of soap on your hands
  • Lather by rubbing your hands together
  • Scrub ALL areas of the hands including the palms, back, in between fingers, fingertips, under nails for at least 20 seconds. If you need help with timing, hum or sing “Happy Birthday” twice. If you sing this song at a normal pace, doing it twice will last around 20 seconds
  • Rinse your hands under water until all soap is removed
  • Dry your hands with a clean towel or if one is not present, let them air dry. (Do not rub your hands on your clothing)

Unlike soap and water, hand sanitizer is portable, making it accessible whenever someone needs it. Whether in the office, in a taxi, or out for a walk, hand sanitizer can easily be placed in your pocket or bag. Particularly useful in hospital settings, hand sanitizers have proven to be a great tool to reinforce good hygiene practices among staff and patients.


Although viewed by many as an alternative to soap and water, hand sanitizer does not work in all circumstances. If your hands are filled with dirt or grease, sanitizers may be able to clean the top layer of dirt but will find it hard to deeply cleanse before evaporating.


Hand sanitizer is most effective when used:

  • Before, during, and after visiting a friend or loved one who is in the hospital. However if the person you are visiting is sick with a virus like Clostridium difficile (which causes an inflammation in the colon), use soap and water after your visit.
  • If soap and water is not available

During those moments when soap and water are not available, using a hand sanitizer that has at least 60% alcohol in its formula is crucial. With the presence of 60% alcohol, your hands will be eliminated of most harmful germs. It is still advised by experts to wash your hands as soon as soap and water is available, as a precautionary measure.    


If you’re looking for a hand sanitizer that is both high quality and inexpensive, MUSE Health is currently providing sanitizers to thousands of people. Containing 62% alcohol, this sanitizer leaves your hands feeling clean while also being devoid of a strong scent.

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Hand sanitizers work in very much the same way as water and soap. However without the use of water, hand sanitizer uses the active ingredient of alcohol to break down a cell wall. Once the cell wall is invaded, alcohol deteriorates a cell's inner structure, prohibiting its ability to metabolise. Without the ability to metabolise, a cell dies away. This leaves the surface of your skin with marginally less bacteria than was present before using a hand sanitizer.

The method for using hand sanitizer is very much the same as soap and water. Before beginning the process, you want to inspect your hands and rid them of any visible dirt. Hand sanitizer can only do so much and by pre-cleaning your hands, it ensures a much better experience.


After inspecting your hands, the rest of the process is straightforward:

  • Apply enough product to cover both the palms and front of your hands. You should aim for a quarter sized amount.
  • Rub your hands together and spread the solution evenly until your hands are dry. This usually takes around 20-25 seconds, depending on the amount of sanitizer used.

Just as with soap and water, do not rub your hands on clothing or any other unclean surfaces right after use. It is incredibly important to supervise young children when they use hand sanitizer in order to prevent unintentional swallowing.  

As you can see, there is a time and a place to use soap and water and hand sanitizer. Both incredibly effective, they serve the purpose of helping you and your loved ones stay healthy. Because none of us know how much longer this pandemic is going to last, making sure to use both options is the best and most recommended method.


When you’re out at the grocery store, use hand sanitizer after using a cart and then wash your hands with soap and water once you get home. If your hands are filled with dirt and grease, skip the sanitizer and go straight to soap and water.  

Hopefully this article gave you a better understanding of this topic and encouraged you to take your cleanliness seriously.