When & How to Use Hand Sanitizer in Community Settings

Hand Sanitizer

Hand Sanitizer

When & How to Use Hand Sanitizer in Community Settings

The CDC recommends washing hands with soap and water whenever possible because hand washing reduces the amount of any germs and chemicals on hands. But if soap and water are not available, using a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol can help you avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others. Guidelines for effective hand washing and use of hand sanitizer in community settings have been developed based on data from a series of studies.


Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can quickly reduce the number of germs on hands in some cases, but sanitizers do not eliminate any kind of germs.

Why is that? Soap and water are more effective than hand sanitizers at killing certain types of microbes such as Cryptosporidium, norovirus and Clostridium difficile . Although alcohol-based hand sanitizers , when used correctly, can inactivate many types of microbes very effectively, people may not be able to use a large enough amount of disinfectant or wipe before drying.


Hand sanitizers may not be effective when hands are visibly dirty or oily.

Why is that? Many studies show that hand sanitizers work well in clinical settings such as hospitals where hands come into contact with germs but are not usually very dirty or oily. Some data also show that hand sanitizers may work well against certain types of microbes on lightly soiled hands. However, hands can become very oily or dirty in community settings, such as after people handle food, play sports, garden work, or go camping or fishing. Hand sanitizers may not work well when hands are very dirty or oily. In such cases, it is recommended to wash hands with soap and water.


Hand sanitizers may not remove harmful chemicals such as pesticides and heavy metals from your hands.

Why is that? Hand sanitizers probably can’t remove or neutralize many harmful chemicals, although few studies have been done. In one study, people who reported using hand sanitizer on clean hands had increased levels of pesticides in their bodies. If hands have touched harmful chemicals, wash them carefully with soap and water (or as directed by the poison control center).

If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.

Why is that? Many studies have found that disinfectants with alcohol concentrations between 60-95% are more effective at killing germs than lower alcohol concentration or non-alcohol-based hand sanitizers. 60-95% alcohol-free hand sanitizers 1) may not work equally well for many types of microbes; and 2) simply reducing the growth of the microbes rather than killing them completely.

When using a hand sanitizer, apply the product to the palm of one hand (read the label for the correct amount) and rub the product on all surfaces of your hands until your hands are dry.

Why is that? The steps for using hand sanitizer are based on a simplified procedure recommended by the CDC. Instructing people to cover all surfaces of both hands with hand sanitizer has been found to provide similar disinfection effectiveness as providing detailed steps for hand sanitizer.

Ingestion of alcohol-based hand sanitizers can cause alcohol poisoning.

Why is that? Ethyl alcohol (ethanol) is safe when used as sanitizers based on a safe but can cause alcohol poisoning, if a person swallows a couple more mouthfuls.

As of 2011 – 2015, approximately 85,000 calls of US poison control centers with hand sanitizer exposure among children can swallow hand sanitizers particularly fragrant, brightly colored or attractively packaged. Hand disinfectants should be kept out of the reach of small children and used under adult supervision. Child resistant caps also help reduce hand sanitizer-related poisoning among young children. Older children and adults may intentionally swallow hand sanitizers to get drunk.

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