13 Hand Sanitizer Mistakes You're Probably Making
For months, people have been romping around with hand sanitizer and applying it when they touch a common surface or a common object in public. We all know that hand sanitizers can help kill germs (including SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19), but there can be some serious mistakes that we make when using the product.
“There is no doubt that hand sanitizer is a convenient and practical resource for reducing the spread of infectious diseases. However, it is not a "panacea," said K.C. Rondello, epidemiologist and clinical associate professor in the College of Nursing and Public Health at Adelphi University. "There are many restrictions on its use, so consumers must be aware of these restrictions in order to get the most out of hand sanitizer."
Here are a few hand sanitizing mistakes and course correction tips, experts say:
1. You are using the wrong type of disinfectant
Not all hand sanitizers are created equal. Rondello recommended the use of disinfectants that “contain at least 60% ethyl alcohol or 70% isopropyl alcohol” as these are the most effective in eliminating germs.
You should also read the product's label to see if its active ingredients kill bacteria, viruses, or both, he said.
"Using a product that is only bactericidal can create a false sense of security because it doesn't protect against viral pathogens like SARS-CoV-2," Rondello told HuffPost, adding that some products like baby wipes may not even be be antimicrobial at all. "They can be used to deodorize and remove visible soil, but they do not have a significant impact on SARS-CoV-2."
Avoid brands that contain methanol, which can be "toxic if absorbed or absorbed through the skin," said Makeda Robinson, a virologist who has studied Zika virus, MERS, and now SARS-CoV-2.
Also, check to see if your hand sanitizer is on the list of brands recalled by the Food and Drug Administration.
2. You are not using your disinfectant long enough
You know how to wash your hands for 20 seconds, enough to hum the song "Happy Birthday" through from start to finish? Well, you should do this to some extent if you're using hand sanitizer, said Aaron Glatt, chairman of the medical division and chief of infectious diseases at Mount Sinai South Nassau in Oceanside, New York.
You should rub the disinfectant into your hands for 20-30 seconds, making sure to "rub it in until it's all gone," Glatt told HuffPost.
Always read the labels on hand sanitizer to see if its active ingredients kill bacteria, viruses, or both, K.C. Rondello, epidemiologist and clinical associate professor in the College of Nursing and Public Health at Adelphi University. (Photo: Maryna Terletska via Getty Images)
3. You are using too little
Not using enough hand sanitizer could mean you're not cleaning successfully, Glatt said.
People often think it's okay to get any excess product out of the spout or just use a tiny droplet. In reality, "you should squeeze out about the size of a quarter or a nickel," said the epidemiologist.
For the larger pump tanks often found by the cash registers in stores, full pressure on the pump should be enough, according to Glatt.
4. You don't get every area of your hands
Any part of your hands that you don't clean can carry particles of the virus. Even if you've only touched something with one finger, always properly disinfect all of your hands - front to back - to be on the safe side.
For example, suppose you take a pen between two fingers and sign a credit card receipt. Don't just rub hand sanitizer on these fingers. Cover all of your hands, including your fingers and fingernails. In fact, "scratch your palms while wet to get some product under your nails," said Charles Bailey, the medical director of infection prevention at St. Joseph Hospital and Mission Hospital in Orange County, California.
5. You're not saving it properly
"You should follow the manufacturer's instructions regarding the temperature to hold it at," Glatt said of hand sanitizer, noting that the wrong temperature can affect a product's effectiveness. "You don't put it in the fridge and you don't put it in the sun."
Griffith Hsu, senior medical advisor for medical supply company Medivico, added that products "must be stored below 105 degrees as heat can destabilize the disinfectant and render it ineffective".
6. You don't disinfect before eating
You can clean your hands after picking up a tote bag, but what about before you dip into the meal when you arrive?
When it comes to hand sanitizing, how often you do it is very important. Glatt's rule of thumb is, if you put your hands near your mouth, be safe and disinfect again.
“I tell people, 'Think about what you just touched. Would you be ready to put your hands in your mouth Touch food? If not, clean your hands again, "he said.
7. You are not careful with candles or flames
"Consumers need to be aware that alcohol-based disinfectants are flammable," Hsu told HuffPost. "Consumers have been reported to experience burns from using hand sanitizer and exposure to open flames such as lighters."
After using a disinfectant, you should give it some time to let the alcohol evaporate, he added. Typically, avoid open flames for at least 30 minutes after use.
“I tell people, 'Think about what you just touched. Would you be ready to put your hands in your mouth Touch food? If not, then clean your hands again, ”said Aaron Glatt, chairman of the medical department and chief of infectious diseases at Mount Sinai South Nassau in Oceanside, New York. (Photo: Morsa Images via Getty Images)
8. You disinfect when your hands are covered with dirt or grease
If your hands are dirty or greasy, the hand sanitizer may not be making enough contact with the skin to do its job.
"This can make you feel protected even though you aren't," said Rondello.
If your hands are visibly dirty, always wash them with soap and water first.
"Remember, hand sanitizer is a great alternative if you find yourself in a situation where you cannot wash your hands or your hands are not visibly dirty," said Robinson. "However, it is not a blanket substitute for the use of soap and water. It is the best and most efficient way to clean dirty hands."
If you are near a sink and also wearing hand sanitizer, use soap and water for 20 seconds.
"Scrubbing with soap and water physically removes germs from the surface of the skin," said Rondello. "In addition, the friction that occurs when drying your hands with a paper towel helps by physically removing pathogens from the surface - a benefit that is lost when using hand sanitizer."
9. You don't let the product dry
It is important that you do not wipe your hands until the disinfectant has dried.
"Trying to use a towel to speed up the drying process will limit the effectiveness of the disinfectant because you will remove it before it has a chance to do its job," said Rondello.
He added that all disinfectants and disinfectants require a certain amount of contact time with a surface so that they can kill the pathogens for which they are intended.
"Removing them prematurely can dry your hands faster, but the disinfectant can also become ineffective. You feel like you're protected when you aren't," he said.
10. You're overdoing it
While this doesn't necessarily affect the effectiveness of the hand sanitizer, it can lead to cracked hands.
"Hand sanitisers not only kill bad bacteria, they also kill good bacteria that can irritate the skin," said Nikhil Bhayani, an infectious disease specialist at Texas Health Resources in Arlington, Texas. "People should moisturize their hands immediately after using them, preferably with a cream."
"If skin irritation develops, switch products instead of reducing the amount of product used or the time it takes to apply or rub in," added Bailey.
11. You make your own disinfectant
Panic buying at the start of the pandemic resulted in many people trying to make their own disinfectant. Don't rely on this method to stay aseptic.
"Experts advise against it," said Bhayani. "It's easy to mistakenly create a mixture that isn't strong enough to kill germs."
It seems simple, but it's easy to forget: remember to check the expiration date of your disinfectant! (Photo: Chalabala via Getty Images)
12. You do not disinfect other objects that you touch frequently
If you sanitize your hands but forget to sanitize your credit card, keys, or phone, you could potentially get infected, said Kristin Hughes, a Chicago-based emergency doctor. This behavior can lead to cross-contamination.
"I recommend applying the hand sanitizer to any touch-sensitive items that you are carrying at the time of disinfection," said Hughes.
13. You do not check the expiration date
It might seem easy, but checking the expiration date is important as the active ingredients in hand sanitizer degrade over time, Rondello said.
“If you decide to buy an expired product that you have on hand because a newer one is not currently available, you know it probably won't be as effective as it was when it was made. So you're rolling whether you're protected or not, 'said Rondello. "Bottom line: it's better than nothing, but you want to replace it with fresh hand sanitizer as soon as possible."
Experts are still learning about COVID-19. The information in this story is known or available at the time of publication. However, guidelines may change as scientists learn more about the virus. Consult the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the most current recommendations.
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