Hand Sanitizer or Hand Wash: Which Is More Effective?

Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic began, hand sanitizers have been going out of stock everywhere; from small stores to supermarkets, the shelves have been clearing out. Most often, people differentiate between hand sanitizers and hand washes in this way – hand wash when you have access to water and sanitizer when you don’t have water. Because of this, people wondered why ‘hand sanitizers’ specifically to prevent the spread of COVID-19? 

Why Should You Wash Hands Often?

To begin with, let us see why washing hands often has become the need of the hour. Among all the parts of our body, our hands are the ones that come in contact with foreign objects and public spaces. Adding to this, we constantly touch our mouths and faces with our hands, and this increases the possibility of microbes entering our body. This is why experts have recommended the usage of sanitizers to prevent the coronavirus. As we are out of home for most of the day, we are bound to touch public spaces and have the chance of contracting the virus. If we touch other people or touch our nose or mouth, the virus will get into the body and affect the body. To eliminate this possibility, using sanitizers frequently throughout the day is advised as washing hands with soap and water is not always possible. 

Also Read: Coronavirus Safety Tips: The Dos and Don’ts

Differences Between Hand Sanitizers and Soap/ Hand Wash

However, though both serve the purpose of cleaning your hands, they do have certain differences. 

  • While soap washes off the germs from the hand, sanitizers kill them. 
  • Sanitizers are not effective against oily or greasy hands. Infact, they make it greasier. 
  • Sanitizers don’t ‘clean’ the hands; they only kill microbes. 


Hand sanitizers that have an alcohol content of above 60% are found to be effective against all kinds of viruses and bacteria with the exception of a few microbes. Norovirus that causes diarrhoea, cryptosporidium that causes breathing issues and clostridium difficile that causes intestinal problems and inflammation cannot be killed by sanitizers. Soap and water merely wash off the microbes from hands. But they also make the hands and fingernails cleaner. However, both the methods will not be effective unless you wash your hands for at least 20-30 seconds. Sanitizers especially require more than 20 seconds of exposure for the alcohol to work. Also, frequent usage of sanitizers might cause the skin to become dry and cracked. 

Also Read: Coronavirus: Passing the Time During Self-Quarantine at Home


Although hand sanitizers are more feasible to use frequently, especially while away from home, medical experts recommend this only as an alternative when soap and water are not available. If you don’t use the sanitizer properly, the virus has chances to remain alive.

The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has suggested a three – step method to effectively use sanitizers: apply sufficient amount of sanitizer, rub the palms together and make sure every inch is covered including the back of hand, keep rubbing until the hands become dry at least for a minimum of 20 seconds.  So make sure you carry a sanitizer if you step out of home (step out only if it absolutely necessary!) and keep an effective hand wash at home. 


  1. Being aware of the current COVID-19 situation, keep washing your hands regularly to prevent the virus from entering your body or transmitting to others. 
  2. Use both sanitizers and soap as both are effective; make others follow this habit as well. 

What do you think?

Written by Thrinethra Serman

Thrinethra is a passionate writer, obsessive binge watcher and dog lover. She loves to explore and experience new, exciting stuff and her ultimate goal is to travel the world and share her stories. "The only thing you need to remember is this, 'YOLO', so don't let anyone or anything stop you from chasing your dreams".

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