'GMA' Tries Different types of Hand Sanitizer and Soap to See Which Works Best

Test shows hand sanitizers with alcohol work better.

ByABC News via logo
October 28, 2009, 7:51 PM

By Oct. 29, 2009— -- As Americans prepare for the height of flu season, health experts keep saying "Wash your hands, wash your hands."

That's great advice, but we wanted more information. What should we wash with? Is antibacterial soap better than regular soap? And do hand sanitizers really work?

"Good Morning America" put them all to the test. We went to the University of Maryland, a world leader in food safety and microbiology, and did a small, informal test in which we basically washed our hands until they were raw.

Caution: Not all soaps and sanitizers are created equal.

"Good Morning America" enlisted Jianghong Meng and his intrepid University of Maryland graduate students to do the experiment with us.

That's right. We deliberately put E. coli bacteria on our hands to see which products would wash it off. The E. coli we used for our experiment was a harmless strain, not the deadly E. coli 0-157.

After each test, we swabbed our hands to see if there was any bacteria left that would transfer to these special incubation plates.

First, hand sanitizers. One with alcohol as the active ingredient, versus another that was alcohol-free. The key with hand sanitizers is to use at least a half a teaspoon or enough that it takes 15 to 20 seconds before it's dry.

Next, we tried out some soaps. A recent British study showed using soap instead of water alone killed three times as many germs. We pitted regular bar soap against antibacterial bar soap, and regular liquid soap against antibacterial liquid soap.

Each time we washed, we counted out the full 20 seconds the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends -- except once, when we tried another popular timing technique: singing. We sang our ABCs while we scrubbed, which experts say ensures you wash for at least 20 seconds.