Effect of Antiseptic Handwashing Vs Alcohol Hand Sanitizers

Effect of Antiseptic Handwashing Vs Alcohol Hand Sanitizers

Hand Hygiene has become a fundamental necessity to avoid infections especially during Covid. When we talk about preventing the transmission of germs, a special focus must be kept on hands. It has been strongly recommended by centers for disease control and prevention, to wash and disinfect hands to remarkably remove the dirt and microbes on the skin surface.

Research Findings

A recent study stated that hand sanitizers and antiseptic hand washing products both dissolve the lipid membranes of bacteria thereby disabling them and their bad effect on skin. When antiseptic products (hand wash, soaps, cleaning solutions etc.) are not at reach then alcoholic sanitizers can be used as an alternative. Although the research suggests that sanitizer must contain a minimum of 60 percent of alcohol in order to deliver the microbicidal effect.

The efficacy of sanitizers is often compromised as people do not apply sufficient amounts to kill germs and sometimes apply sanitizer to clean dirty/chemically contaminated hands which is not a good practice as sanitizer does not work in such conditions.

How often should you decontaminate your hands?

People must not consider handwashing a one-and-done exercise. Virus transmission can be reduced through fine hand hygiene. Under following condition, you are recommended to wash your hands:

  • Pre and post preparation of food.
  • Before eating meals throughout the day
  • Often when you are caretaking a sick person
  • Pre and post treating a wound
  • After you cough, sneeze or blow the nose
  • If hands are visibility stained and dirty
  • After touching or caressing an animal
  • Post touching and throwing garbage
  • And in many more similar situations.

Antiseptic Vs Sanitizer: How to choose?

Medical staff who wash their hands multiple times a day must adopt a switch between utilization of antiseptic handwashing and sanitizers. But the main priority is given to washing hands as it removes dirt, chemicals along with microbes, virus particles and bacteria.

In maximum cases washing hands is preferred over sanitizers. The gel, if not properly applied and dried for a specific time, is unable to disinfect the concerned surface. Therefore, it is vital that either you follow the appropriate guidelines and genuine sanitizing products or go for an antiseptic hand washing option.  

Alcohol Based Hand Sanitizer

A number of factors determine the efficacy of hand sanitizer such as frequency and concentration of sanitizer used and duration of usage and exposure. The standard method is to apply alcohol sanitizer for a duration of 30 seconds on hands and fingers thoroughly accompanied by complete air dry will result in deactivating viruses and bacteria. A certain quantity of solvents like ethanol, ether, chlorine and chloroform are used in multiple sprays and disinfectants. Alcohol free formulated sanitizers also work with similar effects.

  • In an environment where hand washing with antiseptics is poor, sanitizer is effective for controlling transmission of infections/virus.  
  • Infectious illness can be reduced by placing hand sanitizers in places like classrooms, workplaces, malls, hospitals, clinics and other such indoor environments.

Some important factors to know about before adopting the use of hand sanitizers are as follows:

  1. Portable

Portable hand sanitizer bottle is the answer to maintaining hand hygiene on the go. With its proven potency of killing many kinds of viruses and microbes, it can be utilized any time to instantly disinfect the desired area. But it is to be noted that all hand sanitizers are not formulated equal and can be ineffective. So make sure that it contains a minimum of 60 percent alcohol. Remember that more the alcohol there is in sanitizer, more effectively it will work.   

  1. Glutinous

Undoubtedly the sanitizers reduce the likelihood of virus transmission but protection against norovirus cannot be provided by hand sanitizers. Moreover, sanitizers leave a sticky residue which causes inconvenience among users due to its adhesive nature. For people who have dry skins, hand sanitizer is not a good option as it further dries out the skin surface.


The type of antiseptic which concerns washing hands is Halogenated phenol derivative, formally used in soaps and cleaning solvents. It has use cases for multiple situations but our concern is with disinfecting hands. Antiseptic hand washing is by far the most significant method in killing germs. The surface membranes of all viruses and bacteria are deactivated when hands are scrubbed with water and antiseptic products.

It is suggested to wash hands for at least 20 seconds thoroughly to lift up the dirt and infectious microbes.

 Certain important facts of antiseptic hand washing are mentioned below:

  1.   Cleanliness

Antiseptics like soap and hand wash ensure a thorough cleaning as they destroy parasites, bacteria and pathogens that can make people sick. Hand sanitizers do not possess the ability to neutralize your hands against debris and dirt which on the other hand is possible when hands are washed using antiseptics by appropriate lathering.

  1.   Non-Portable Nature

As described earlier, hand sanitizers are portable to use but antiseptic products are not. Indeed, you can carry soap bottles and hand wash and cleaning solutions everywhere you go but ultimately you need a sink with flowing water to accomplish the washing process. Antiseptics alone cannot eliminate the pathogens and instead require proper scrubbing of skin with water.

Why is antiseptic hand washing preferred over hand sanitizers?

Talking in reference to the current pandemic situation, the antiseptic soap/solution used with water can entirely wash away the top membrane of viruses also including Coronavirus. So it is more effective. During washing, the soap molecules create friction with hands thus destructing and draining microbes with flowing water.

Neha Nanda (Medical Director at University of South California) at one point said “Viruses are more effectively killed and removed from hands with soap and water”. Although antiseptics take more time (20 seconds) to work as compared to hand sanitizers, they physically remove the germs which is not the case with the latter.

So, whenever the compliance of washing hands is good then follow the adequate handwashing steps guideline and stay disinfected.

Regardless of which one you use, adopt the correct strategy

You should adhere to the correct method of use, antiseptics and sanitizers, otherwise both can be of no advantage. Therefore, it is essential to follow correct rules and procedures for either product. For example, some antiseptic requires a hand wash of 20 seconds and some of 40 seconds. Similarly, sanitizers containing alcohol might not work effectively, if not given enough time to absorb on the surface. In the end, we recommend ensuring consistency and correctness for whatever product you select to use.

If either of two ways cause any irritation or allergy, then avoid opting for products that contain a high ratio of irritating agents.. Besides this, you must develop a habit of moisturizing the skin after using manufactured products to avoid skin irritation.