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Consumer Reports: Hand washing vs. hand sanitizer

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Posted at 4:00 AM, Nov 11, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-11 08:38:54-05

TUCSON, Ariz. - Fall may be in the air, but winter is on its way, bringing flu season with it. The health team at Consumer Reports says one key to staying on your feet is by paying attention to your hands.

“It’s so important to keep your hands clean," says Consumer Reports Home Editor, Catherine Roberts. "Hand washing, with soap and water is the ideal. Hand sanitizer is the next best option.”

Which may or may not be saying much. According to the C-D-C, alcohol-based sanitizer can kill some germs, such as cold and flu viruses when used correctly. But sanitizer is not reliable against several other germs, including norovirus, the common and highly contagious stomach bug. And it may not be as effective if your hands are visibly dirty with grime. One recent study even found that washing your hands with water alone might do a better job of removing flu virus than hand sanitizer did! That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use soap! The best way to clean your hands is to wash with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

“Hand washing removes germs from your hands," says Roberts. "Hand sanitizer can kill germs, but it doesn’t always get all of them. Which makes hand washing a better bet.”

If you really can’t get to a sink, use hand sanitizer with at least 60-percent alcohol. Be sure to use enough to cover all the surfaces of your hands and fingers, rubbing it in until it’s dry. And remember, the number one way to reduce your risk of catching the flu is by getting the flu vaccine.

And while a flu shot and regular hand washing will go a long way to preventing colds and flu, Consumer Reports reminds us that flu also spreads through the air. So try to avoid close contact with people you know are sick. And if you do get sick, stay home to avoid infecting others.