Hand-washing beats sanitizers for flu prevention

Hand sanitizer can kill germs, but it doesn't always get all of them

Photo does not have a caption

In the battle against the flu, an annual vaccine is important, and so is keeping your hands clean. Studies show good old-fashioned hand-washing is better at removing the flu virus than convenient hand sanitizers.

“Washing your hands with soap and water is ideal, but using hand sanitizer is the next best option,” said Consumer Reports’ Catherine Roberts.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an alcohol-based sanitizer can kill some germs, such as cold and flu viruses, when used correctly. But sanitizer isn’t reliable protection against several other germs, including norovirus, a common and highly contagious stomach bug. 

And it may not be as effective if your hands are visibly dirty with grime. A recent study even found that washing your hands with water alone––without soap––might do a better job of removing flu virus than hand sanitizer. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use soap.

Common cold, or is it the flu? How to tell the difference

Health advocates say the best way to clean your hands is to wash them with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

“Hand-washing removes germs. Hand sanitizer can kill germs, but it doesn’t always get all of them. That makes hand-washing a better bet,” Roberts said. 

If you can’t get to a sink, she says use hand sanitizer that has at least 60 percent alcohol. Be sure to use enough to cover all the surfaces of your hands and fingers, rubbing it in until it’s dry. 
Medical experts say the best way to reduce your risk of catching the flu is by getting the flu vaccine.  

About the Author:

As a consumer reporter, Marilyn is all about helping people stay safe and save a buck. Since coming to KSAT in 1985, she’s covered everything from crime to politics, winning awards for her coverage of the Mexican Mafia, Oklahoma tornadoes, children’s transplants, an investigation into voting irregularities and even a hit-and-run Santa Claus.