Once upon a time we all left our respective homes without hand sanitizer and didn’t think twice about it. We opened doors, scrolled on our phones, shook hands with perfect strangers and didn’t recoil in mortal fear. Now, the mental checklist we run through when we make quick trips to the store for essential goods probably sounds something like “card, keys, phone… and hand sanitizer”. But just the act of carrying hand sanitizer or giving your hands a quick spritz isn’t good enough.
The CDC says hand washing is the best way to clean hands, yet when you’re on-the-go hand sanitizer made with at least 60% alcohol will do the trick. The WHO agrees that hand sanitizers are effective broad-spectrum microbicidals (meaning they work to get rid of most germs, bacteria and virus) for skin and high-touch surfaces.
And it turns out there’s a right way and a wrong way to use hand sanitizer. It’s simple. But don’t follow the steps and your sanitizer won’t work properly.
Here’s how to do it:
- The CDC says one of the two biggest mistakes people make when using hand sanitizer is not using enough. Dispense enough sanitizer into one palm to generously cover your hands or high-touch surface. Hands need to be free from grease or visible dirt for the sanitizer to actually work.
- Next, rub the sanitizer over the entire surface of both hands (or surface). Friction is helpful in dislodging microbes here. Be sure to cover everything with the sanitizer. For your hands that means the palms, the backs of your hands, fingers, between fingers, nails and wrists.
- The next big mistake the CDC says people make is not letting the hand sanitizer dry before touching things. It won’t be as effective if you don’t let it dry fully, so take a few seconds after applying it and let your hands or surfaces dry before doing anything else.
- Try to keep hands away from your face, keep your hands to yourself and try not to touch things when in public -- especially things like handles, light switches, ATMs, poles and straps on public transit. Harder to do than it sounds.
- If you do find yourself clutching a subway pole or touching a shopping cart, just follow the steps above -- use enough sanitizer, cover the whole surface and LET IT DRY -- and your hands will be sanitized against most major germs.
Bonus tip: Use a sanitizer with moisturizing ingredients to prevent damage to your skin barrier function, which can lead to irritation, cracking and drying and can leave you exposed to other sorts of infection.