What's more effective during flu season: Hand washing vs. hand sanitizer

ABC News' Dr. Jennifer Ashton explains the hidden pitfalls of hand washing and how to properly wash your hands to avoid germs during flu season.
3:33 | 02/06/18

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Transcript for What's more effective during flu season: Hand washing vs. hand sanitizer
Back now with the fight against the flu. One of the best ways to protect yourself, clean your hands. So what works best? Washing them or using hand sanitizer? ABC's gio Benitez is here with a closer look. What you got? Reporter: Hey, good morning. You know it, most flu is spread in the air. The part that's easier to control getting flu off a surface and this morning we ask, what's the best way to get the flu off you? This morning, with the worst flu on record in at least a decade and 53 child deaths across the country experts are zeroing in on simple hygiene, saying it can help curb the spread of the virus. So, frequent hand washing, so not just kidding wash your hands before dinner, but wash your hands pretty frequently during the day. Reporter: Hand washing and hand sanitizer, both ways to fight flu. Let's show you how well they work. In a lab we coated some volunteers' hands with a liquid containing germs then pressed their hands to petri dishes and put the dishes in an incubator to watch what grows from germy hands. Then we tested two different sanitizers, one with 60% alcohol and one labeled natural containing no alcohol. The results dramatic. Just look at this. The alcohol-based sanitizer showed far fewer germ colonies than the samples taken without any cleaning at all. The formula without alcohol, just look at how many germs are left behind compared to no sanitizer at all. But doctors say if you can get to a sink, washing with soap is tried and true. But you have to do it correctly. When we tested a five-second wash just look at those germs it didn't remove. You have to wash for a full 20 seconds to really get the bugs off. And when it comes to hand sanitizers, experts say alcohol-based products work much better because the alcohol kills offer the bacteria and viruses but if you're using enough sanitizer it should take about 15 seconds for your hands to dry. Wow. All right. Very simple. We'll bring in Dr. Jennifer Ashton and, Dr. Jen, we think we know how to wash our hands but how do we properly wash our hands. Technique really matters. That's the thing is that people often don't do it correctly so number one you have to use warm or hot water. That's really important. You have to use a lot of soap. You have to really use good friction because that destroys the bacteria and the viruses and as we've heard sing "Happy birthday" twice so 15 to 20 seconds, the key is drying well. Now, follow me on this one, when you wash your hands and you touch the faucet, your hands may be clean but then they are contaminated so we use this harmless powder glo-germ and I want you to see under a black light our producer touched these surfaces, all of that that has -- that is lighting up are Georges. If you are in the bathroom with me, which I know you're not, you'll see -- Well, not on purpose. You'll see that I take literally tissues and I touch the door handle on my way out with tissues and do this on airplanes and doorknobs -- You do that on the faucet. Absolutely. I do not touch that faucet with my hands and you know what, fun fact, in the operating room in the hospital setting when we do surgery our first scrub of the day is with soap and water, the old-fashioned way. After that it's all hand sanitizer and then we air dry, drying is just as important as washing. This is year round, not just flu season. Correct. Just for germs in general. All germs. All right. Thank you, doc.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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