The Difference Between Hand Washing and Hand Sanitizing


The current COVID-19 pandemic has been plaguing the globe for over six months. Nevertheless, the end at the light of the COVID-19 tunnel seems to yet be within our reach. At this point, there is still a lot about the disease that remains shrouded in mystery. However, we know that the spread of COVID-19 can be halted through two very simple means – hand washing and hand sanitizing. 

Contrary to popular belief, hand washing and hand sanitizing, while similar, isn’t the same. Both approaches are beneficial to safeguarding yourself against the virus but specific situations call for a different means of protection. It is important to know the difference in order to truly maximize the benefits of each security measure. 

As a business owner, it is your responsibility to keep your employees safe. If you have resumed in-office operations, it is all the more important for you to understand all the safety measures that you can implement within your work area to ensure the safety of your workers. Needless to say, it is high time for you to learn the difference between handwashing and hand sanitizing. 

The Best Recourse: Hand Washing

When it comes to COVID-19 protection, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, otherwise known as the CDC, champion hand washing as the main means to safeguard oneself from the virus. To put it simply, soap and water are more effective in killing pathogens like the COVID-19 virus than hand sanitizer. 

“Hand sanitizer may kill viruses and certain bacteria, but it does not ‘clean’ your hands like soap and water do. Sanitizer doesn’t remove actual dirt and debris. Soap kills germs, binds them, and helps physically remove them, with the water, off your skin and down the drain” explains Athanasios Melisiotis, a physician at Penn Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. 

Simple hand washing is an effective means of COVID-19 protection because it minimizes the effects of common unsanitary practices most people have. For one, there are individuals who find it difficult to refrain from touching their faces – even in public. The face is extremely vulnerable because it has plenty of orifices in which germs can get into. Moreover, people eat with their hands. Germs are more likely to be ingested from contaminated food and drinks without proper handwashing. 

With that said, not all soaps are created equal. For the most part, regular bar soap is enough to curb the spread of COVID-19. However, if you have space for it in your operational budget, choosing to outfit your office with antibacterial soap can give your workers an extra line of defense. 

Pros and Cons of Using Hand Sanitizer

Again, if you have the option between washing your hands and using hand sanitizer, it is always best to opt for hand washing. However, there are instances wherein facilities for handwashing are simply unavailable. In this case, hand sanitizers can give you a level of protection that can safeguard you from COVID-19. Nevertheless, experts agree that alcohol-based sanitizers are the only effective option. 

“Avoid ‘alcohol-free’ sanitizers as there isn’t much data on those and they can vary in effectiveness. We know that alcohol kills viruses. Don’t create your own hand sanitizer, though. You should buy quality-controlled and tested products that provide effective sanitation” explains Melisiotis.

For the most part, choose sanitizers that contain 60% alcohol. 

Proper Hand Washing Technique

Similar to questions on how to clean your office and how often should your office be cleaned, hand washing is less about the soap and more about the frequency and technique. In these uncertain times, there are situations that require you to wash your hands. Some, if not most of them, would come as no surprise to some people but there is merit in repetition:

  • Before cooking or handling food
  • Before and after meals
  • Before and after contact with a sick person
  • Before and after treating a wound
  • After coughing or sneezing
  • After handling animal waste
  • After handling trash or garbage

Aside from the frequency, there is also a proper technique that goes into hand washing. Most people assume that the soap is what cleans surfaces. While there is some truth to it, the friction that happens when you rub your hands loosens germs and makes it easier for the water to clean them off of the surface:

  • Wet your hands before applying the soap
  • Apply soap. Use antibacterial soap if it is available
  • Rub your hands to lather. Make sure that you reach every inch including the space between the fingers
  • Rub your hands for 20 seconds. A good trick is to sing happy birthday while lathering up. 
  • Rinse your hands thoroughly. Make sure the surface is no longer slick. 
  • Use a towel or a napkin to dry your hands completely. 

Experts agree that at the end of the day the type of soap has less importance than your handwashing technique. 

Hand Sanitizing Dos and Don’ts

As with washing your hands, there is a correct way of applying hand sanitizer. According to the CDC, the three-step method would ensure that the cleaning agent is used to its best potential: 

  • Apply hand sanitizer liberally. Make sure that the sanitizer you used contains at least 60% alcohol.
  • Rub palms together and coat all surfaces with the sanitizer. 
  • Rub hands until dry. 

Alcohol-based sanitizers work by breaking down the germs, so not only do you have to have enough, the alcohol needs to hang around long enough to work. That generally ensures enough exposure time. The exposure time really needs to be more than 20 seconds. If you only pump enough sanitizer so your hands are dry in 5 to 10 seconds, then that probably isn’t enough” explains Michael Chang, an infectious disease expert from the University of Texas.

When it comes to safeguarding your employees, prevention is always better than cure. The information about handwashing and hand sanitizing above can equip you with enough knowledge to create safety protocols within your office. It might seem tedious but remember – it is always better safe than sorry.