Soap and Water Before Hand Sanitizers
For as long as I’ve carried my own backpack or purse, I’ve had my own little bottle of hand sanitizer with me. I used it after touching money, opening doors, getting out of the BART, coughing, sneezing, or anytime I felt like I was touching something “germy”—especially when flu season hit. Hand sanitizers are just so convenient for always-on-the-go college students, and although I won’t necessarily die without it, I do get uneasy when I don’t have that precious bottle with me.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I still wash my hands when I’m cooking, before eating, and after using the restroom. I once made the mistake of rubbing my hands with sanitizer before digging into some fries and ended up tasting oils, salt, and the sharp taste of alcohol. It’s not a taste I want to try again, so I’ve stuck to washing my hands with soap and water instead. Otherwise, I use hand sanitizers and I see plenty of other people around me using hand sanitizers just as much.
The other day, however, I was washing my hands in the restroom when someone walked out from one of the stalls and, instead of moving towards the sink, headed straight out the door. I was grossed out that this happened, especially since this was in a restaurant. I approached my friend who had been waiting outside and recounted what I saw. My friend simply told me not to worry about it because the girl had used hand sanitizer on her way out.
But what if she had touched something that got stuck in the crevices of her nails? Or what if the hand sanitizer missed the spot? Hand sanitizer wouldn’t just dissolve the dirt, muck, and any other unmentionables into nothing.
According to a column in the New York Times by Deborah Franklin, hand sanitizers aren’t meant to remove dirt and grime. If anything, hands should be cleaned with soap and water and then be rubbed with hand sanitizer to deal with any remaining germs, because otherwise, the dirt would just be moved around. It seems that there is a misconception that hand sanitizers work just like soap and water except without the soap or water. It may kill some germs, but it can’t be used to wash off dirt, paint, or anything that leaves from a restroom with you. So, if some of the germs cling to that dirt or grime, then the hand sanitizer isn’t removing the germs at all. They stay on your hands and spread with everything you touch, even when you think you’re safe and clean.
In fact, even though hand sanitizers are advertised to kill most germs, there are feared germs that are immune to the disinfecting qualities of hand sanitizers, ones like Salmonella, HPV, and anthrax spores. David Friedman, a Doctor of Naturopathy at Harvard, found that hepatitis-causing blood and feces are unaffected by hand sanitizers; yet, and I cringed at this part, these hand sanitizers are frequently used in restaurant bathrooms.
Obviously the girl I saw in the bathroom has been depending on hand sanitizer a little too much, and I’m sure that she isn’t the only one foregoing handwashing in favor of a quick and easy hand sanitizer. I can see how it just makes sense. The instant “cleaning” that hand sanitizers offer is so much more convenient than searching for soap and water every time you feel like you’ve got germs on your hands. This false sense of cleanliness, however, could be allowing germs to spread not only to other parts of your body that you touch but to others as well without you even realizing. A study of 161 long-term care facilities revealed that the facilities favoring the use of hand sanitizers over handwashing were more likely to have outbreaks of norovirus.
People are always in such a hurry these days, and I would be lying if I said that I didn’t think getting up to go wash my hands before I eat at a restaurant is a hassle. Still, with the limitations of hand sanitizers in mind, shouldn’t we be avoiding the use of hand sanitizers when there are soap and water around? I believe hand sanitizers were created not to completely erase the need for traditional hand washing but to serve as a temporary relief for those moments when there aren’t bathrooms, soaps, and water around. Don’t you?
- Hand Sanitizers, Good or Bad? from the New York Times Health by the New York Times Company <http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/21/health/21cons.html>
Article by Nicole Marie Barcega
Feature Image Source: Medical News Today