Hand Sanitizers: Common Mistakes

We curated this article by Nicole Pajer from the Huff Post, who cautions “Beware of these errors when disinfecting your hands for germs, including the virus that causes COVID-19.”

For months now, people have been toting around hand sanitizer and slathering it on anytime they touch a shared surface or object in public. We all know that hand sanitizer can help kill germs (including SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19), but there may be some major errors we’re making when applying the product.

“There is no doubt that hand sanitizers are a convenient and handy resource to assist in mitigating the spread of infectious disease. However, it is not a ‘cure all,’” said K.C. Rondello, an epidemiologist and clinical associate professor at Adelphi University’s College of Nursing and Public Health. “There are many limitations to its use, so consumers must be aware of these caveats in order to utilize hand sanitizers in the most effective way.”

Here are a few hand sanitizer mistakes and tips on how to course-correct, according to experts:

1. You’re using the wrong kind of sanitizer

Not all hand sanitizers are created equal. Rondello recommended using sanitizers that “contain at least 60% ethyl alcohol or 70% isopropyl alcohol” since those most effectively eliminate germs.

You should also read the label of the product to determine if its active ingredients kill bacteria, viruses, both or neither, he said.

“Using a product that is only bactericidal may give you a false sense of security, as it provides no protection from viral pathogens like SARS-CoV-2,” Rondello told HuffPost, adding that some products, such as baby wipes, may not even be antimicrobial at all. “They may have some use in deodorizing and removing visible soil, but they will not have a meaningful effect on SARS-CoV-2.”

Avoid brands that contain methanol, which “can be toxic when absorbed through the skin or ingested,” said Makeda Robinson, a virologist who has studied the Zika virus, MERS and now SARS-CoV-2.

And make sure to check if your hand sanitizer is on the list of brands that have been recalled by the Food and Drug Administration.

2. You’re not using your sanitizer for long enough

You know how you should be washing your hands for a full 20 seconds, enough for you to hum through the “Happy Birthday” song twice from start to finish? Well, you should also be doing this to some degree when you’re applying hand sanitizer as well, said Aaron Glatt, chair of the Department of Medicine and chief of infectious diseases at Mount Sinai South Nassau in Oceanside, New York.

You should rub sanitizer into your hands for 20 to 30 seconds and make sure to “rub it in until it’s all gone,” Glatt told HuffPost.

Always read the labels of hand sanitizers to determine whether their active ingredients kill bacteria, viruses, both or neither, said K.C. Rondello, an epidemiologist and clinical associate professor at Adelphi University’s College of Nursing and Public Health.

Always read the labels of hand sanitizers to determine whether their active ingredients kill bacteria, viruses, both or neither, said K.C. Rondello, an epidemiologist and clinical associate professor at Adelphi University’s College of Nursing and Public Health.

3. You’re using too little

Not using enough hand sanitizer could mean that you are not successfully cleansing, Glatt said.

People often think that getting excess product off the spout or even just using a small droplet is fine. In reality, “you should push out roughly the size of a quarter or a nickel,” the epidemiologist said.

For those larger pump containers that are frequently found by the cash registers in stores, Glatt said a full push down on the pump should be sufficient.

4. You’re not getting every area of your hands
Any part of your hands that you leave unsanitized can carry particles of the virus. So even if you only touched something with one finger, you should always properly sanitize your whole hands — front to back — to be safe.

For example, say you pick up a pen between two fingers and sign a credit card receipt. Don’t just rub hand sanitizer around on those fingers. Cover your whole hands, including fingers and fingernails. In fact, you should “scratch your palms while still wet to get some product under the nails,” said Charles Bailey, the medical director for infection prevention at St. Joseph Hospital and Mission Hospital in Orange County, California.

5. You’re not storing it correctly…

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