The Simple Truth About Hand Sanitisers

  • Parents Only

By: Alex Harmon, ellaslist

You see them in hospitals, daycare centres, schools and in airports so you know they are an important hygiene matter. As parents we probably use them more than ever. I was even given some in a gift basket when my son was born. But did you know that hand sanitisers aren’t always the best option for when you need to get rid of germs and prevent the spread of infection?

NPS MedicineWise is reminding us about the importance of hand washing as a way of preventing illness and stopping the spread of infection-causing bacteria. And that less bacterial infection means we can reduce the need for antibiotics. But something we found rather interesting was that it’s a misconception that hand sanitiser is the best way to do this.



There’s A Simple Solution

In everyday situations it’s actually soap and water that provides your best option for stopping the spread of germs. Alcohol-based hand sanitiser (at least 60% alcohol) would be your second option, but only when soap and water is not available. It’s not something that we, or our kids, should be using everyday. And even though you might see them popping up on your supermarket shelves and in chemists, there’s very little evidence for the benefit of antibacterial hand washes.

NPS MedicineWise medical adviser Dr Jeannie Yoo says that regular hand washing using simple soap and water is the most effective way to help stop the spread viruses, bacteria and other microbes that can make us sick.

“Although the soap and water doesn’t kill them, washing your hands using the correct technique for at least 30 seconds physically removes the majority of bacteria and other germs from your skin,” says Dr Yoo.


The Problem With These Sanitisers, Soaps And Hand Wash

Some hand sanitisers which don’t have alcohol content use triclosan instead. This is an active ingredient in pesticides and was actually banned in the US by the Food and Drug Administration!

There’s even evidence that these antibacterial chemicals in antibacterial products can affect the balance of bacteria in your gut, and also may make bacteria more resistant to some antibiotics.

Furthermore are your kids (or us busy mums) even washing your hands with these antibacterial soaps for long enough?

“Antibacterial hand sanitisers are only effective when used during long washes of over 30 seconds, multiple times a day, and for days at a time. But we know that most people only wash their hands for a few seconds," says Dr Yoo.

Are you a hand sanitiser addict? There are issues with the overuse of these products, too.

“By going overboard and trying to establish a sterile environment we may actually be increasing the population of bacteria that are highly resistant to antibacterials and, possibly, to antibiotics," says Dr Yoo.

They Do Have Their Place

I should point out, seeing antibacterial sanitisers in hospitals, daycare centres, schools and airports isn’t something that should cause alarm. In these high traffic environments they can be effective in stopping the spread of bacteria and viruses and even if you have clean hands it is advised that you use them in these places.

Alcohol-based hand sanitiser products (with 60%–95% ethanol or isopropanol) work well against many of the viruses and bacteria that spread infections like colds, flu and diarrhoea.

And always keep it in a safe place – not just slipped into your handbag. There is the risk of your child swallowing these sanitisers, some of which smell sweet and inviting to inquisitive children. There have been a number of reported incidences of alcohol poisoning in children in Australia due to them swallowing hand sanitiser.

Six Steps To Clean Hands

Now is the time to practice good hygiene habits and teach your kids how to properly wash their hands. 30 seconds of hand washing can seem like an eternity to a toddler, so make it fun and sing a song as you do it (I was taught to sing Happy Birthday as I washed my hands as it’s roughly 30 seconds but my toddler finds this a disappointing choice of song, especially as there’s no cake at the end of it!).

This video below shows you how to effectively wash your hands in six simple steps: