Hand Sanitiser vs Soap & Water – What Should You Use?

Author: Vanessa Gagliardi   Date Posted:16 March 2020 

Have you washed your hands? Did you use soap? Many of us are utterly familiar with these questions and with good reason: keeping our hands clean is essential for preventing the spread of germs that can make us sick.

Germs, aka microbes, are everywhere around us – in the air, on the surfaces we touch and even in and on our bodies. Most of them are harmless and can actually contribute to good health, but there are several other microbes that can cause issues and it’s these ones we prefer to not have in or on us. Our first line of defence against these harmful germs is personal hygiene, i.e. washing our hands!

With the up and coming winter season, we thought we’d give you some insight into the best hygiene practices to help reduce the spread of germs that can cause illness. This blog will compare the benefits of using hand sanitiser versus non-antibacterial hand soap to help keep the bugs away this winter.


Scrubbing with Soap

Soap has been around for centuries, as early as 2800 B.C. The Ancient Babylonians are recognised as the first to make soap which was made from a combination of animal fat, water and wood ash. The Ancient Egyptians were quick to manufacture their own version which they used for wounds, skin disease and for personal hygiene. This basic recipe, a combination of fat with water and a salt, is what is still used in many of our soap recipes today.

Soap doesn’t kill germs, rather it removes them from our skin. Germs stick to the natural oils on our hands and other parts of the body. When we wash our hands with water alone, the water doesn’t remove much of the germs because we know that water and oil don’t mix. However, soap likes both water and oil.

According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), washing our hands with soap means the soap molecules are able to bind to the water and the oil, carrying away the germs as we rinse. However, ensure you’re being thorough with your handwashing! A quick scrub and rinse is unlikely to get rid of many germs. Take your time washing your hands as the friction helps to lift dirt and oils from your skin - do so for at least 20 seconds. If you need a timer, just hum the tune of ‘happy birthday’ twice. Don’t forget to wash under your nails and all the way up to your wrists.

Did you know that germs can be transferred more easily to and from wet hands? This is why drying our hands with paper towel or air drying them is highly recommended after washing.



Alcohol-Based Sanitisers

Hand sanitisers are tremendously convenient as they can be carried in our pockets or bags wherever we go. They also have their place in hospitals, medical clinics and veterinary clinics as they help to kill off germs in a short period of time. When you don’t have access to hand soap or running water, hand sanitiser is a quick and easy way to get your hands as clean as possible. Even though they can quickly kill and reduce the number of microbes on our hands in some situations, they don’t eliminate all types of germs.

Many of us don’t use enough hand sanitiser to effectively neutralise the germs on our hands, some of us wipe the sanitiser off before it has even had a chance to dry. The CDC recommends applying hand sanitiser to the palm of one hand, then rub all over the surfaces of your hands until your hands are fully dry.

In times when soap and water aren’t available to you, use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser containing at least 60% alcohol. Many studies have found that hand sanitisers with an alcohol concentration between 60-95% are more effective at killing germs than those with a lower alcohol concentration or non-alcohol-based sanitisers. Hand sanitisers that contain less than 60% alcohol are likely to only reduce the growth of germs, rather than kill them.


All in All…

All in all, keeping our hands clean is imperative to help prevent the spread of germs, especially during winter. According to the CDC, washing our hands with soap and running water is the best way to keep our hands clean, however you may wish to carry some alcohol-based sanitiser containing at least 60% alcohol in the instances where you don’t have access to soap and water.

Consider using soaps that are gentle on the skin and are rich in nourishing ingredients like shea butter, coconut oil or olive oil. Be sure to check out our new range of olive oil soaps that are gentle on the skin and infused with a range of natural ingredients such as lemon myrtle, coffee seed, rosemary and pink clay.



CDC (2019), Show Me the Science – How to Wash Your Hands, Centers fo Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cited on 12.3.2020, accessed <https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/show-me-the-science-handwashing.html>

CDC (2019), Show Me the Science – When & How to Use Hand Sanitiser in Community Settings, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cited on 11.3.2020, accessed <https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/show-me-the-science-hand-sanitizer.html>

Hickok, K. (2020), Why do we use soap? Live Science, cited on 11.3.2020, accessed <https://www.livescience.com/57044-science-of-soap.html>


Written by Vanessa Gagliardi

Vanessa (BHSc Naturopathy) is a qualified naturopath with a passion for good food. She uses nutrition and herbal medicine to help people feel their best, from the inside out.

Vanessa enjoys nature walks and Pilates, and loves a good almond mocha.

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