Coronavirus: Hand Sanitizer vs Hand Wash

Hand Sanitizer or Hand Wash: Which is more effective against Coronavirus?
In the time of coronavirus, it is very important to keep your hands germ-free to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

However, people are getting confused between hand sanitizer and hand wash by soap or water. In most countries that are fighting against coronavirus, there is either no stock for hand sanitizers or available in outrageously inflated price and that too in a limited quantity. Even, it is very difficult to get it from e-commerce sites due to no stock availability. 

But the question is- 
“Is hand sanitizer more effective than washing hands with soap and water to prevent the spread of coronavirus?”

In this article, we have discussed the effectiveness, appropriate usage, and the right selection of hand cleaning products that will give you protection against COVID-19.

Why is it important to clean hands to prevent the spread of coronavirus?

The thing is that a disease COVID-19 caused by coronaviruses is a new illness. There is no proper specification or documentation available for how exactly it spreads. However, evidence suggests that the novel coronavirus is generally transmitted through cough droplets and spread from person to person. The droplets can land on anything, from any object to surfaces to foods. It can live for hours or days depending on the conditions. 

If people touch anything on which those droplets have landed before, and then touch their face, nose or eyes, they can get infected with this virus. So, it is very important to clean your hands when you return to your safe place (e.g., your home, your work station, or your desk, etc.).

How do soap and water work against viruses?

Under the microscope, coronaviruses seem to be surrounded by pointy spires, which appear as a crown (corona). These crowns are further surrounded by the layer made of lipids (in general ‘fat’). If that outer layer is removed, the viruses get physically deactivated.

It is possible to break the particles with soap. Soap can be a good option to dissolve the lipid layer surrounding the viruses. It also breaks up the other weak bonds within the virus. As a result, the virus effectively falls apart. Soap includes fat-like compounds known as amphiphiles, which are almost similar to the lipids that are found in the virus membrane.

Therefore, the soap comes into contact with these lipids and creates a solid bond with them, which forces them to disconnect from the virus. It further forces the virus to disengage from the surface of the hands.

How does a hand sanitizer work against viruses?

Hand sanitizer can be beneficial against coronavirus if used properly. Alcohol in a hand sanitizer is a kind of a different chemical property. It can break the germ membranes if it gets into direct contact with the bacteria or virus. Alcohol can be pretty good at killing germs, but it does not wash them away.

Which is more effective?

Experts recommend people to wash hands with soap and water. It is considered as a gold standard for preventing infectious diseases (such as flu and diarrheal diseases), and other harbor nasty pathogens, including the coronavirus. The new coronavirus comes encased in a layer of fat (or you can say a lipid envelope), which soap can break apart. It will reduce the chances to be infected. Besides, people can also use liquid soap in place of bar soap. Since bar soap and liquid soap both are equally effective, but, it is suggested not to use bar soap which is available in public places (such as public washrooms).

The hand sanitizers are suggested only in those situations where people cannot wash their hands with soap and water. Make sure to use only those hand sanitizers which contain at least 60% alcohol because it’s the alcohol that’s required to kill viruses.

Note: Hand sanitizer or hand wash is of no use if not used properly.

How to clean hands?

The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) suggests people to use clean running water of any temperature to wet the hands before applying the soap.  So, wet your hands with water, lather them with soap and scrub for at least 20 seconds. Scrubbing with your hands is important to generate soap bubbles, which dissolve the chemical bonds that allow bacteria, viruses and other types of germs to stick to the hand surfaces. Make sure to focus on places, such as the back of your hands, between fingers, and under the nails, because there are the places where microbes tend to build up. Rinse them thoroughly with clean running water. Rinsing your hands washes away all the germs that have been killed by soap molecules. Dry your hands well with a disposable towel, and use that towel to turn off the tap before throwing it away. 

According to reports, ‘Paper towels are superior to air dryers’. It is because these towels can dry your hands more quickly and thoroughly when compared with air dryers and germs can easily be transferred to and from wet hands than dry.


Since using hand sanitizer can be a smart way to slow or prevent the spread of viruses, it is still recommended to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water. 
Wash your hands frequently for at least 20 seconds. 
If you are bounded to use hand sanitizer, then make sure that your sanitizer contains at least 60% of alcohol. 
Make your hands dry before you apply hand sanitizer. Cover every surface of both hands thoroughly with the sanitizer and rub it gently until dry.
Do not apply sanitizer in your hands if they are greasy or dirty. In such cases, sanitizers are less effective.

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