We pick up bacteria on our hands all day long. Washing your hands and using hand sanitizer are two ways to get rid of that bacteria and help keep yourself (and your family) healthy.

Does hand sanitizer work? We pick up bacteria on our hands all day long. Washing your hands and using hand sanitizer are two ways to get rid of that bacteria and help keep yourself (and your family) healthy.

Marybeth from Alarm Clock Wars and AgriCultured here again! Let’s talk bacteria… and more importantly, let’s talk about how to get rid of it!

Does Hand Sanitizer Work?

We all know that washing our hands is important. Washing gets rid of dirt and bacteria that are on our hands, and it helps to keep us from getting sick. It’s easy to see dirt on your hands, but it’s impossible to see bacteria. So I did a little experiment to try to visualize the bacteria. You can read all about it in this post on AgriCultured.

Let’s look at one part of the hand washing experiment. I used preservative-free white bread (from the bakery section in my grocery store). I went through my normal morning routine – getting Baby Doc up, dressed, and breakfast; seeing Farmer Doc head off to work; breakfast and coffee for me; taking Baby Doc to day care. After I dropped Baby Doc off, I handled this piece of bread. I stuck it in a Ziploc bag with a couple of sprays of water, then let it sit for a week.

When you touch the bread, bacteria transfer from your hands to the bread. After 7 days, you can see the bacteria that were on your hands growing on the bread.

Check out that Day 7 picture! You can start to see the bacteria growing on Day 5, but by Day 7 they have really taken off! There are some green bacteria colonies, some white ones, some furry ones, and even some pink ones. Pretty nasty!

After I bagged the first piece of bread, I used hand sanitizer to clean my hands. Then I did the same thing with another piece of bread.

Even after using hand sanitizer, there are still some bacteria on your hands. After 7 days, you can see the bacteria that were on your hands growing on the bread.

The Day 5 bread looks pretty good, but there are definitely some bacteria growing by Day 7, even after using hand sanitizer! So the hand sanitizer helped… there’s a big difference from the bread when I didn’t wash my hands at all. But it didn’t really kill all the bacteria that were there.

Here’s a comparison. The bread on the top was touched with my unwashed hands. The bread on the bottom left was touched after I washed my hands, and the bread on the bottom right was touched after I used hand sanitizer (no washing).

Washing hands and using hand sanitizer both cut down on the number of bacteria that are on your hands, but neither gets rid of all the bacteria.

Washing and using hand sanitizer definitely both made a big difference and cut down on the numbers of bacteria that grew on the bread. But neither of them totally got rid of the bacteria!

Read this post on AgriCultured for more information on this experiment, why it works, other ways I tested how “dirty” my hands were, and how you can do it at home!

When Should I Use Hand Sanitizer?

Hand sanitizer can be a good substitution for washing your hands… sometimes. If you can see dirt on your hands (like on Baby Doc’s hands after he’s been playing outside), you really need to wash your hands with soap and water. The dirt will prevent the hand sanitizer from working the way it’s supposed to. Soap and water is the only thing that will get rid of that dirt. As the soap and water washes the dirt away, it will also wash the bacteria away!

The CDC recommends that you only use hand sanitizer if there is not soap and clean water available. If you do use hand sanitizer, you should use one that is alcohol-based, with 60% or higher alcohol content. Other types of sanitizers, or ones with lower alcohol content don’t work as well. Some non-alcohol-based sanitizers may actually help bacteria become resistant to those sanitizers!

How Do I Use Hand Sanitizer?

One of the reasons that hand sanitizer doesn’t always work as well as washing is because people don’t always use it correctly! Check the label on your hand sanitizer for directions. Here are some basic guidelines on how to use hand sanitizer.

  • Pour the right amount of sanitizer into the palm of one hand. (Check the bottle for the amount – it’s usually at least a dime-sized pool.)
  • Rub the sanitizer over both palms, the backs of your hands, your fingers, and in between your fingers.
  • Keep rubbing until your hands are completely dry (about 30 seconds, if you used the right amount of sanitizer).

Most people won’t use enough hand sanitizer, or will wipe off any “extra” liquid before it has a chance to dry. This makes hand sanitizer less effective in killing bacteria.

Hand sanitizer can be handy, especially if you’re on the go and can’t get to soap and water easily. But it is important to use it correctly! Do you use hand sanitizer, or do you wash your hands? Do you use hand sanitizer the right way? Share your favorite hand sanitizer with us!

Marybeth from Alarm Clock Wars

I am a large animal veterinarian, cow farmer, pet owner, grocery buyer, social media consultant, so very much not-a-morning-person. Every morning, I fight the good fight to stay in a warm bed with a