Student Life

The “Dirty” Truth: Hand Sanitizer vs. Hand Washing

Getting sick can be one of the biggest setbacks you can have during the semester.  You can’t be too careful when it comes to making sure that you don’t get sick.  That’s why cleaning your hands can be one of the best ways to prevent coming down with something nasty.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a federal agency charged with providing the public with information about how to avoid spreading and contracting serious illnesses, it’s important to make sure your hands are clean.  Whether you’re preparing food, eating, treating wounds, using the restroom, blowing your nose, or handling garbage, you should always remember to “wash up”.  These are all primary situations in which it’s best to be careful, especially after being on campus all day around at least hundreds of other people.

For most students, their first reaction may be to use hand sanitizer after touching a doorknob or leaving the bathroom.  However, is this really better than washing your hands?

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The CDC  sheds some light on the situation.  They recommend hand washing as the best option, saying hand sanitizer is really only good in situations where soap and water isn’t available (and only if it contains over 6o percent alcohol).  This is especially true if your hands are visibly dirty; in those situations you should wash with soap and water.

We also found that using antibacterial soap over standard soap can actually do more harm than good.  According to the Mayo Clinic, antibacterial products leave surface residues that may help to develop resistant bacteria. In fact, using antibacterial soap can cause the development of bacteria that is resistant to certain antibiotics.  Overall, it’s best to use standard soaps and rinse with warm or cold water.

While it may seem so simple, there really is something to washing your hands over using hand sanitizer.  Overall, using standard hand soap will help keep your hands clean, but it will also prevent you from picking up the nasty cold that your roommate got, or the stomach flu making its way through your Poli Sci class.


CDC:  Hand Washing – Clean Hands Save Lives

Mayo Clinic:  Hand Washing – Do’s and Don’ts

“Strange But True:  Antibacterial Products May Do More Harm Than Good” by Coco Ballantyne


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