A long, long time ago, humans discovered that it was possible to combine animal fat with alkaline salts or ash to create what we now know as soap. And this combination did a great job of cleaning.
Some of the earliest recorded evidence of soap use dates back to before 2,000 B.C. in the Middle East. The Ancient Egyptians are known to have combined various plant and animal fats with alkaline salts to create a cleaning substance they then bathed in.
In more recent years (the 1960s, to be exact), we discovered that alcohol could kill bacteria and viruses like the coronavirus, something which sparked the global pandemic that has seen us placed under lockdown, social distancing, and constantly cleaning our hands. And because hand sanitiser is made up mostly of alcohol, it has quickly become a valuable commodity as people try to stay safe and virus-free.
While hand sanitiser can neutralise the coronavirus and make our hands safer, it isn’t as effective as soap and water are.
Soap is the best option for keeping our hands clean because it destroys the sticky bond between the germs and our skin, allowing them to slide right off into the sink and down the drain. Not only are you neutralising pathogens like the coronavirus with soap, but you’re also physically removing it from your hands. Hand sanitiser dispenser doesn’t do this.
So, public health experts are right when they say that it’s best to wash our hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
That’s not to say that hand sanitiser is useless, though. Many healthcare professionals rely on hand sanitizer dispenser and use it multiple times a day between seeing patients. Although it doesn’t do as thorough a job of cleaning our hands as soap and water does, it does kill pathogens like coronavirus.
The type of soap used doesn’t matter. It can be expensive branded soap or cheap generic soap. It doesn’t need to be antibacterial either; all soap works the same on all viruses and pathogens, not just coronavirus.
To understand why soap works better than hand sanitiser, it’s a good idea to look at its chemistry, which is quite fascinating.
Soap has two chemical components to it: A head that’s hydrophilic, meaning that it Is attracted to water, and a hydrophobic tail, meaning that it repels water and likes to mix with oils and fats. As you probably already know, water and fats/oils don’t like to mix together, however, when you add soap, they do.
Just think about if you’ve ever tried to mix a vinegar-based oil dressing. You’ve got to keep shaking up the dressing because the oil and vinegar separate if left still. Soap, however, can be used to bridge the chemical differences between water and fat. That’s why you can’t clean a greasy frying pan with water alone; you’ve got to add dish soap.
Now think about what coats a virus to protect it: a layer of fat.
Soap molecules can therefore pry themselves into the fatty layer of a virus and break it up, essentially killing it and washing it down the sink. However, it takes a little bit of time for the soap to penetrate the fatty layer and do its job, so that’s why we’re advised to wash our hands for at least 20 seconds.
It doesn’t matter whether the water is clean (however, it’s better if it is) or what temperature it is: All that matters is that you’re using soap and thoroughly using it to wash the hands for 20 seconds at a minimum.
When you’re done washing your hands, dry them off with a clean towel. This makes the skin less hospitable to the bacteria and viruses that can make us sick.
To wash your hands, lather them with soap and scrub them for at least 20 seconds. There’s a technique to it, however.
Make sure to focus on places that people tend to forget. This includes the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and underneath your nails. These are all places where microbes have a tendency to build up. Then when you’ve finished lathering up, rinse your hands under clean running water and dry off with a clean towel. Be sure to use a clean towel because any germs on a towel can easily be transferred to clean, wet hands.
While this all sounds simple enough, numerous studies have shown that people tend to not wash their hands properly or for long enough. Some people don’t wash their hands at all!
In a 2009 study which has been cited by the United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC), it was revealed that 69 per cent of men don’t wash their hands after using the bathroom, compared to 35 per cent of women.
Then, in 2013, another study carried out by Michigan State University found that 95 per cent of people don’t wash their hands for long enough to kill harmful bacteria.
Generally speaking, hand sanitiser should only be used where soap and water isn’t an option or isn’t accessible. Hand sanitiser is also an option where handwashing with soap and water might not be entirely necessary, such as when you’ve touched a door handle or used public transport but don’t have visibly dirty or soiled hands.
If you’re going to use hand sanitiser, you need one that has an alcohol content greater than 60 per cent. This is because sanitisers with an alcohol content lower than this might not be able to destroy the fatty membranes that surround viruses.
Hand sanitiser isn’t effective against all viruses, either. It won’t do anything against non-enveloped viruses like rhinovirus and norovirus. This is another reason why soap and water is the best option for killing viruses on our hands. However, because coronavirus isn’t one of these ‘non-enveloped’ viruses, hand sanitiser will work against it.
According to Christopher Friese, a professor of nursing, health management and policy at the University of Michigan, hand sanitizer also poses three challenges that soap doesn’t:
So, wherever you can and for the best possible results, use soap and water. Hand sanitiser should be used as a second option.
Consider using hand sanitiser when:
You should avoid using hand sanitiser when:
At HandStations.co.uk, we sell a range of hand sanitiser dispensers and hand sanitation and sanitiser station products like gels and dispensers. We sell to both private individuals and businesses/companies that are looking for a one-stop-shop for all their hand sanitation needs.