VERIFY: Is hand sanitizer as effective as washing your hands?

We look into whether hand sanitizer is as effective as hand-washing for preventing the spread of diseases.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) – Hand washing or hand sanitizers? What's your best protection from germs?

We use the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Arkansas Department of Health, and a school nurse as our sources.

At Cabot Middle School south, school nurse Kimberly Armstrong constantly reminds students to do it.

"First and the best thing is simple handwashing. Not just water, you have to use water and soap and do it for at least 20-30 seconds, that is what I would say would be the first line of defense to keep from getting sick," said Armstrong.

Doctor Gary Wheeler is the Arkansas Department of Health's chief medical officer.  He verified the number one thing you can do to prevent sickness is to wash your hands. "When it does become a habit, the rates of infection drop, it's very important for us in healthcare settings as well as just out on the street to remember," he said.

But we often forget when we’re in a hurry. That’s when Dr. Wheeler said we put ourselves at risk. Can hand sanitizers help? The doctor said it depends.

"The problem is, hand sanitizers don't work under some conditions. Number one, if you're not getting the right volume of sanitizer out of the dispenser you may not adequately sterilize your hands. second thing is, if your hands have a lot of dirt or grime or bacteria on them, it may not be as effective," he said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol. Why? Many studies have found that sanitizers with an alcohol concentration between 60 to 95 percent are more effective at killing germs than those with a lower alcohol concentration."

Nurse Armstrong pointed to hand sanitizers literally lining the school hallways for busy kids who may forget. "Hand sanitizer is great whenever you're in a pinch, you're in the car, you can't stop or kids are heading to the playground and there's no time for going to the bathroom to wash hands, kids are in a hurry to get out," she said.

"Soap and water on the other hand, work very, very well in those situations particularly the volume of water. Water alone even without soap will dilute a lot of these pathogens from your hand," Wheeler said.

So yes, hand sanitizers greater than 60 percent alcohol do work, but in no way, can they replace good ole fashioned hand-washing.

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