When + How to Use Hand Sanitizer Properly for COVID-19 Protection

Just rubbing it into your palms? That’s a big mistake.

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When an outbreak occurs, hand sanitizer becomes a hot commodity. Hand sanitizer is certainly useful for removing harmful germs from hands and preventing the spread of COVID-19 and other infectious diseases, but it’s important to remember it’s a backup weapon against infections.

Your firstline tool against infectious diseases? A sink, soap, and clean water. That’s because soap and clean water is more effective at reducing the amounts of *all* types of germs and chemicals. Hand sanitizer has been shown to remove some, but not all, pathogens.

Why Clean Hands Matter

Respiratory infections like COVID-19 are spread through tiny droplets when you cough, sneeze, or talk. If someone coughs into their hand, or touches a contaminated surface, the virus can survive on the hands and be passed on to infect others (or themselves, if they touch their mouth, nose, or eyes).

Good hand hygiene helps eliminate some of those dangerous germs. The longer you wash with soap and water, the greater number of pathogens get eliminated from the hand, thus reducing the spread of infections. (Find out more about how COVID-19 spreads in humans here.)

Hand Sanitizer Tips

When you don’t have access to a sink and soap, hand sanitizer is a great alternative. Make sure to use a hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol: Any lower than that, and it might not be effective at killing enough pathogens.

Here are tips to use hand sanitizer properly:

  • Sanitize the entirety of your hands. It’s a common mistake to only rub the palms together. Don’t forget difficult crevices and easy-to-forget spots: the wrists, between the fingers, the backs of the hands, the thumbs, and the fingertips.

  • Use plenty. To cover all of those areas, you’ll need to use an ample amount. The hands should appear wet after application.

  • Rub until dry. The friction of rubbing helps lift the unwanted germs away from the surface of the skin. Once the sanitizer becomes dry on the hands, you’re done.

Hand sanitizer isn’t perfect, and you should avoid using it as your primary cleaning method, but it’s a convenient option for hand hygiene on the go when there’s no sink nearby.