Do alcohol-based hand sanitisers really work better than soap?

Sanitiser units are a common sight in offices, hospitals, doctor’s and dental surgeries, but are they warranted in our homes and in our handbags?

Mary-Louise McLaw, professor of epidemiology healthcare infection and infectious disease control at the University of NSW, told 891 ABC Adelaide’s Mornings program there were times when clean hands were not negotiable.

“You really must clean your hands every time you go to the bathroom, prepare food and before you eat,” Professor McLaw said.

But she said alcohol-based antibacterial gels and washes were largely unwarranted.

“We do not need to kill germs — we just need to wash them off.”

Professor McLaw said there were tens of thousands of “great germs” which were found on our hands.

“You need [the germs] to keep the layer of the skin healthy,” she said.

“We don’t realise it, but we have germs inside us and all over us and they are there for a really good reason.”

We need germs to build immunity

Professor McLaw said by blanket-killing germs, you might be doing more harm than good.

“We can actually cause more allergies because we are getting rid of those germs that help us to build our immunity.

“We need germs on our skin to keep it supple and stop it from drying out.

“While I am an advocate for hand hygiene, I am not an advocate in the community for the overuse of alcohol-based hand rubs or medicated soaps.”

Old-fashioned soap and water

Professor McLaw said dirty hands could not be cleaned properly by using sanitiser or wipes.

“You have to do it the old-fashioned way.

“Alcohol-based hand rubs will not cleanse your hands if they are visually dirty or feel sticky, because the active ingredients can’t get through the organic material.

“Just an ordinary soap and water wash is superb.”

Professor McLaw said wiping your hands on a paper or cloth towel after washing them would also help to dislodge any excess germs.

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