The Pros and Cons of Hand Sanitizer

adult giving child hand sanitizer

Hand sanitizer is everywhere these days. You can buy it at the dollar store. You can find dispensers in the doctor’s office, the hospital, the pharmacy, the grocery store, at schools, in public restrooms, airports, and pretty much any other place that people go. At face value, this may seem excellent and way to ensure that your hands are always germ-free. But this may not necessarily be the case. There are many benefits of hand sanitizer, but there are also dangers.


  • Hand sanitizer kills many forms of bacteria

  • A convenient alternative when soap and water is not available

  • Easily affordable

  • Available in a variety of colors and scents


  • Antibacterial does not mean antiviral, so a squirt of hand sanitizer is not likely to prevent you from catching that stranger’s cold

  • Not effective when hands are visibly dirty or grimy

  • Flammable

  • Potentially poisonous if consumed, such as by a young child

  • May contain chemicals that kill not only “bad” bacteria, but also the good bacteria the body needs to stay healthy

  • May dry out skin with frequent use

  • May exacerbate condition of cuts on hands

  • Not all hand-sanitizers are the same – different forms may have different alcohol content, meaning one may not be as effective as another

  • Is simply not a sufficient alternative to soap and water hand-washing

Essentially, hand-sanitizer is good in a pinch. When there’s no soap and water accessible, hand sanitizer is better than nothing. A substance that kills many microorganisms is, of course, better than no attempt to clean your hands at all. If you feel a little icky after retying a loose shoelace while at the gym, by all means, use a squirt of sanitizer. Proper hand-washing, however, is always the most effective means of getting your hands clean. If a potential employer shakes your hand at a job interview while sniffling throughout, pop into the restroom on your way out of the building for some good old soap and water. If you’re sitting down for dinner at a restaurant, take the two minutes to go wash your hands instead of cracking open the hand sanitizer.

Is sanitizer the best option for your situation? Make sure you are using a sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol, and use enough to thoroughly cover the front and back of each hand. It should not dry instantly. While it’s wet, it is doing its job, so give it more than 15 seconds to work. Are soap and water available? Turn on the water, lather up, and scrub for at least 20 seconds, making sure to scrub every part of the hand including the backs of the hands, underneath the nails, and between your fingers. Don’t forget your thumbs! Rinse well and dry thoroughly. If you need help timing how long 20 seconds is, just sing “Happy Birthday” in your head twice.


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