After suffering a hideous cold-and-flu season in 2013, I’m geared up and ready to fight this year. That has meant stocking up on cough medicine, making sure I bought some chicken noodle soup in bulk during a recent trip to the wholesale club, and making sure I’ve got my doctor and the pediatrician on speed dial. I’ve basically been following this list and checking things off one by one to make sure I’m ready.
I also typically stock up on hand sanitizer, but a recent article has me rethinking the hand sanitizer addiction in favor of simply washing my hands more often with soap and water. It turns out that some hand sanitizing products fight bacteria and don’t actually fight viruses that cause cold and flu. And those same products can lead to bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics. I knew that hand sanitizers aren’t effective against everything, but I didn’t know to look for a specific concentration of alcohol for maximum effectiveness. I probably won’t be throwing out my giant vat of sanitizer any time soon, but now I certainly know what to look for — and avoid — the next time I’m shopping for a bottle of the stuff.
Read on to bone up on all of your hand sanitizer stats so you can be sure to buy the right thing to effectively prepare for the viruses and germs that’ll be coming at you as the weather gets colder.
7 Things You Should Know About Hand Sanitizer 1 of 8
Get the 411 on the common defense against the common cold: hand sanitizer! Here are seven things you should know.
Skip Triclosan 2 of 8
Triclosan is an ingredient added to products, such as antibacterial soaps and toothpastes, to reduce or prevent bacterial infection. It may prevent bacterial infections, but it isn't effective against viruses or fungi, and because colds and the flu are caused by viruses, it won't help you out there. While it's not currently known to be hazardous to humans, some animal studies have shown that it alters hormone regulation in animals, while other studies have raised concerns about making bacteria resistant to antibiotics.
Look For 60 Percent 3 of 8
Alcohol hand sanitizers must be 60 percent alcohol to be effective. Those that hit that mark are your best bet for killing bacteria and viruses.
It’s Not A Kill-All 4 of 8
Alcohol sanitizers can kill some viruses — but unfortunately not all. They don't, for instance, take care of noroviruses, commonly called stomach flu, that run rampant through closed places like daycare centers, schools and cruise ships. Even though hand sanitizer can't kill everything you come in contact with, it's better than nothing if you can't get to a sink.
They Don’t Work On Dirty Hands 5 of 8
If you've actually got dirt and grime and grease on your hands, the hand sanitizer won't work, experts say. The alcohol can't get past the dirt to do its job. Soap and water is your best option, but you could also use hand sanitizing wipes or baby wipes plus a hand sanitizer if you can't get to a sink.
Photo credit: Nadya Peek, Flickr
It’s A One-Two Punch 6 of 8
When you regularly wash your hands and use hand sanitizer, you increase your germ-fighting ability. One recent study in children ages 4 to 12 showed that the group that used combined hand-washing practices with the use of hand sanitizer reduced the number of days absent from school, compared to the group that didn't use hand sanitizer.
Photo credit: Robert Couse-Baker, Flickr
Your Best Bet Is Soap And Water 7 of 8
You can't go wrong with the tried-and-true method of good old-fashioned soap and water scrubbing — as long as you do it right. Experts say you need about 24 seconds, enough time to sing "Happy Birthday" through twice, to suds up your hands and nails to effectively rid yourself of viruses and bacteria. Once you've washed, dry thoroughly and consider yourself clean as a whistle (one that hasn't been in someone's mouth).
Photo credit: soapylovedeb, Flickr
Think About Your Phone 8 of 8
Now that you've got your hands clean, think about your cell phone. You've probably got it nearby for most of the day, and you probably don't think twice about eating while you've got it in your hands. But it's actually teeming with germs. Phones have so many germs that one doctor says you're more likely to get sick from your phone than from handles in a bathroom. Many phone manuals will advise against using alcohol-based cleaners. Microfiber cloths can remove dirt and oil, but a UV disinfectant wand or a product like PhoneSoap, which charges the phone while disinfecting, are good bets.
Photo credit: StankoviÄ‡ Vlada, Flickr
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