How effective is hand sanitizer?

Hand sanitizer is in short supply nationwide during the COVID-19 pandemic, but experts say hand washing for a minimum of 20 seconds is more effective than any hand sanitizer. (Unsplash)

Provo resident Aubree Schill was standing in line at the pharmacy when another patron started voicing frustration over the store’s lack of hand sanitizer during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As he kept asking where the hand sanitizer was, the head pharmacist stuck his head out of the window in the store and asked, ‘How effective do you think hand sanitizer is against a virus?'” Schill said.

Since that experience at the pharmacy, Schill has wondered, like many others, how effective common hand sanitizer brands are against COVID-19.

“From what I’ve listened to and read, hand sanitizer only removes bacteria and doesn’t really clean your hands very well,” Schill said.

Nursing major Claire Bernhisel believes in the effectiveness of hand sanitizer and said she used it all the time during her clinicals at the University of Utah Intensive Care Unit.

“Every time we went in and out of patients’ rooms, we had to use hand sanitizer,” Bernhisel said.

Much of the misinformation on COVID-19 comes from a lack of research, according to Julianne Grose, a BYU microbiology professor.

“We just don’t have enough good and careful research on COVID-19 yet,” said Grose. “You can’t even look it up on the internet because there’s not a lot of good information.”

Despite this lack of research, Grose said the virus is most closely related to the common cold.

“Hand sanitizer should be effective if it’s 60% ethanol or 70% isopropyl alcohol,” Grose said.

According to Grose, however, this lack of information shouldn’t be a problem if people remember that the main thing that will help stop the spread of COVID-19 is washing their hands.

“No one should freak out about hand sanitizers unless they don’t work near a faucet and soap,” Grose said. “Washing your hands does more to get rid of bacteria than any hand sanitizers will.”

However helpful the use of hand sanitizer may be against COVID-19, using hand sanitizer won’t replace the effectiveness of regular hand washing for a minimum of 20 seconds, she said.

As Utah Gov. Gary Herbert has said repeatedly during recent press conferences on the importance of appropriate hand washing, 20 seconds is the equivalent of singing “Happy Birthday” twice.

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