Home & Garden

Hand hygiene: hand sanitizers or wet wipes?

In 2009, when Sam was a college freshman, the AH1N1 pandemic led to a lot of class suspensions. When classes finally resumed, there was a new fixture in all school entrances next to the security personnel — hand sanitizers. When Alex took the entrance exam at the same school, we stayed at the school’s hotel and there were hand sanitizers on every floor in front of the elevators.

Well, hand sanitizers have become so popular that they now come jazzed up with different scents.

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This set of fruit-scented hand sanitizers is from my mother. She keeps us supplied with cosmetics and toiletries because I think she overflows with them every Christmas when the gifts come pouring. So, every year, the girls and I have a supply of lotions, soaps, liquid soaps… even bath foam.

Anyway, back to hand sanitizers. In restaurants, I’ve often seen diners, mostly women, take a small bottle of hand sanitizer from their purses and proceed to apply and rub the gel on their hands before eating. On the road, when kids get their hands dirty from eating or handling dirty objects, I’ve seen mothers make them rub sanitizer on their hands as though that will get rid of the dirt.

The thing is, hand sanitizers are meant to kill bacteria and prevent their transmission. They are not a substitute for washing the hands when the hands are visibly dirty. It is meant as an antiseptic — it is not meant to remove dirt. I mean, hand sanitizers are okay for removing dirt if you have something to wipe your hands with afterward. But to just apply the gel and rub your hands together without wiping off… isn’t that just moving and displacing the dirt to some other spot on your hands? Isn’t that like going through the ritual of cleaning the hands without actually cleaning them?

Personally, I prefer wet wipes over hand sanitizers. Especially when traveling. When we went on that road trip to Baguio all the way to Laoag, I packed a dozen packets of wet wipes, always kept one in my bag, and I supplied Speedy, Sam and Alex with them. In addition, Speedy always has a bottle of rubbing alcohol in the car and a pack of tissue paper.

From what I’ve read, for a hand sanitizer or wet wipe to kill 99.9% of bacteria, it must contain at least 70% alcohol. If the alcohol level is too low (below 60%), well, it’s probably good for making your hands smell good and nothing much else.

Of course, there’s nothing like a good hand wash. Without being like Jack Nicholson’s character in As Good As It Gets, naturally.

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