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Hand Sanitizers

Do hand sanitizers work any better than soap and water? Find out on this Moment of Science.

Do hand sanitizers work any better than soap and water?

While hand sanitizers do kill germs, they may not be as effective as one might think. A hand sanitizer contains alcohol, which kills the germs and then evaporates on contact. It also contains soothing emollients to counter the alcohol’s drying effect.

Sure, hand sanitizers kill the germs on your hands–including the resident bacteria that live there, and the transient illness-causing bacteria you pick up off doorknobs. But unless you rinse them off in water, the dirt on your hands isn’t affected. It’s like sanitizing dishes without first rinsing them off.

What’s more, as the alcohol evaporates, it strips your hands of their protective oils and pulls up resident bacteria that live in the deeper layers of your skin, so you may end up with more germs on the surface of your hands than you started with.

While hand sanitizers offer a quick fix, they work best in conjunction with soap and water.

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