Is Hand Sanitizer Better Than Soap?

Person with soap lathered hands

Using hand sanitizers has become a common practice. You can find them at store entrances, in restaurants, around the mall, in your gym, and so on. Most of us also carry a small sanitizer bottle in our cars or bags. However, is hand sanitizer better than washing hands with soap and water?

Is Hand Sanitizer Better Than Soap? 

According to the CDC, washing your hands with soap and water is the best way to clean your hands and preferable to hand sanitizer. While both methods have their advantages and disadvantages, soap is superior in terms of killing all types of germs, including viruses and bacteria.

When using soap to clean your hands, make sure to lather your hands for at least 20 seconds before rinsing off. It is the optimum duration to ensure the complete elimination of pathogens. The easy and fun way to keep track of the time is to sing the “happy birthday” song twice, from beginning to end.  Person washing their hands with soap and water at the sink

Are Hand Sanitizers Effective?

Yes, hand sanitizers are very effective against many germs, and bacteria. They also offer unparalleled convenience when it comes to maintaining your hand hygiene. In fact, sanitizers are very common in the healthcare setting precisely because of their efficacy and ease of use.

Therefore, if you cannot access a hand washing sink, you can use a sanitizing gel. There are detailed protocols available that define the correct way to use a sanitizing gel. The most important factor is to use the label-recommended amount, usually at least 1 to 2 pumps.

Take the sanitizer in one hand and rub it all over your hands, covering all the surfaces. Keep rubbing your hands until the solution dries, around 20 to 30 seconds. Avoid wiping your hands before your hands are completely dry.    

Why Is Soap Better Than Hand Sanitizer?

Washing your hands with soapy water is the gold standard for hand hygiene. Unlike hand sanitizers, soap suds are able to remove all types of viruses and bacteria. These include the novel coronavirus, harmful bacteria like salmonella and staphylococcus, and common illness-causing germs such as norovirus, Clostridium difficile, and cryptosporidium.  

While hand sanitizers are useful in clinical settings, they cannot clean visibly dirty or greasy hands, such as after playing outdoor sports or handling equipment. They are also unable to remove harmful chemicals and pesticides from your hands. Therefore, prioritize hand washing for your health and safety.     

When Should You Wash Hands?

Experts recommend maintaining a meticulous hand hygiene regime to prevent yourself and your loved ones from getting sick. Therefore, CDC recommends washing your hands, instead of using a hand sanitizer, in certain situations where the likelihood of germ spreading is higher. These include:Woman applying sanitizing gel for her hands

  • Before, during, and after preparing food
  • Before and after eating food
  • Before and after caring for a person, sick from vomiting or diarrhea
  • Before and after treating a wound
  • After using the toilet, changing the diaper, or cleaning a child who went to the toilet
  • After blowing your nose, or coughing or sneezing in your hands
  • After touching an animal, handling pet food, or cleaning animal waste
  • After touching garbage

When Should You Use Hand Sanitizer?

Hand sanitizers are endorsed by most experts, due to their effectiveness and accessibility. If you ever find yourself in a situation where you cannot wash your hands with running water and soap, opt for a sanitizer instead of not cleaning your hands at all. Your priority should be to keep your hands clean and relatively germ-free.

However, you cannot use just any hand sanitizer and expect it to deliver the required results. You need to ensure that the sanitizer is alcohol-based and its alcohol content is at least 60% or alcohol-free and contains BZK.

History of Handwashing in Healthcare

Regular hand scrubbing was not a norm for doctors back in the 19th century. Hungarian doctor, Ignaz Semmelweis, was the earliest proponent of hand washing. He worked at the Vienna General Hospital, a large teaching hospital with two maternity wards; one was run by doctors and the other by midwives. 

Semmelweis noticed a stark difference between the maternal mortality rate, due to “childbirth fever” or streptococcal infection, between the two wards. He deduced that, unlike the midwives, the doctors who examined women in the maternity ward were also performing autopsies. 

Consequently, the germs from the cadaver were transferred to the women’s genitalia through the doctor’s hands, causing infection and death. This discovery led Semmelweis to advocate for mandatory hand washing between patients, resulting in a dynamic decrease in the maternal mortality rate.  

Person with soap lathered handsImportance of Soap and Water in Healthcare

Maintaining proper hand hygiene is a necessity for doctors, nurses, and the other staff in a hospital, to ensure the health and safety of their patients. Hand washing helps in infection prevention and controls the spread of disease-causing germs. Therefore, it is mandatory to wash or sanitize hands between patients and scrub hands before surgery.

Unfortunately, studies show that healthcare providers do not clean their hands for even half the time they should. This leads to the spread of healthcare-associated infections, which are reported to affect 1 in 31 hospital patients every day. Patients can get infected by direct contact or touching a surface that came in contact with healthcare personnel.

Inadequate handwashing also puts the personnel and their co-workers at risk of getting infected. Thus, using soap and water can kill the pathogens on the personnel’s hands before they can be transmitted, saving the lives of numerous patients.

Related Questions 

Does GlanHealth Hand Sanitizer kill germs?

GlanHealth Hand Sanitizer kills 99.9% of the harmful germs it comes in contact within as little as 15 seconds by disrupting the outer cell membranes resulting in a physical kill. This physical kill ensures microorganisms can not adapt or become resistant over time.

Why use GlanHealth alcohol-free Hand Sanitizer vs. traditional alcohol-based products?

GlanHealth Hand Sanitizer helps protect hands and skin without the drawbacks of alcohol-based hand sanitizers. Traditional alcohol-based products only kill germs that are on your skin while they are wet – they don’t protect you after the product is dry. Once an alcohol-based sanitizer has evaporated, its killing power is gone. GlanHealth Hand Sanitizer continues to work, with repeated use, even after it is absorbed.

Continuous use of alcohol-based sanitizers can dry out the skin and lead to painful irritations, including allergic rashes and the cracking of the skin. GlanHealth’s Advanced Hand Sanitizer is water-based and contains no alcohol. It’s also non-flammable and non-poisonous. It’s the safe and effective choice for the whole family!


Washing your hands with soap and water is far better than hand sanitizers. While sanitizing gels can eliminate most germs, soapy water can kill all the viruses and bacteria. However, you must wash your hands for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, you can use a hand sanitizer