Hand Sanitizer: Good Hygiene or Just Hype?

"Since H1N1 emerged in the spring of 2009, an enormous amount of attention has been paid to effective hygiene practices," said Brian Sansoni, vice president of communications at the Soap and Detergent Association. "That's why products like hand sanitizers are so useful."

Most experts agree that keeping hands clean is the best way to stay healthy, especially during cold and flu season.

According to Dr. William Schaffner, chairman of preventative medicine at Vanderbilt University, the best thing about hand sanitizer is its portability.

"Soap and water works wonderfully, but we are a society in a rush," he said. "If you are out and about and shaking hands, you can use it right away. People are so used to it that they will share it."

Hand Sanitizer As Effective as Washing

While there have been concerns that germs become resistant to antibacterial soaps, Schaffner said germs don't become resistant to alcohol, the main ingredient in many popular hand sanitizers.

While hand sanitizer is safe and effective for use throughout the day, including before and after using the restroom, people should always wash their hands using soap and water before preparing food.

Hand sanitizer is even safe for children, though they should be old enough to understand not to ingest it.

However you choose to keep your hands clean throughout the day, what really counts is the technique. The Centers for Disease Control recommend washing hands for a full 20 seconds. That's approximately the time it would take to sing the alphabet or "Happy Birthday," both of which can be used to teach children proper hand washing.

When using hand sanitizers, it's important to use enough that it takes 15 to 20 seconds for the gel to dry. When used correctly, hand sanitizer and hand washing can have equal results.

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