Does Hand Sanitiser Actually Work Against Coronavirus?

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There’s been a run on hand sanitiser, bad enough that two stores I visited this weekend were completely cleaned out. There’s also a tweet circulating that says not to bother with the stuff, and wrongly claims it doesn’t kill viruses. So let’s be clear—yes, hand sanitiser can kill coronavirus. But you will also be ok without it.

How does hand sanitiser work?

The alcohol in hand sanitiser disrupts the outer coating of many, but not all, germs. It’s not very effective against bacterial spores or against viruses that don’t have an outer envelope, but it is effective against most everything else.

Coronaviruses do have an envelope, so that’s good news here.

Do coronavirus prevention recommendations include hand sanitiser?

Yes, they do. The U.S. CDC, for example, includes this recommendation on their page about protecting yourself from COVID-19:

If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.

Not all hand sanitisers use alcohol, so check the label to be sure.

Is washing my hands better than using hand sanitiser?

Yes, but hand sanitiser is a good stopgap if you can’t get to a sink or if your hands are visibly dirty.

Mucus, dirt, or other substances on your hands can actually protect microorganisms from being killed by the alcohol. So if your hands aren’t clean, it’s important to actually wash them.

When you wash your hands, any kind of soap is fine (it doesn’t have to be antibacterial), and you’ll want to scrub for 20 seconds, or about two rounds of humming “Happy Birthday.”


    Regardless of the disease:

    Wash your hands.
    Cough into your elbow, not your hand/wrist.
    Wash your hands - especially after coughing/sneezing.
    Don't touch your face if you can avoid it.
    Wash your hands - especially before touching your face.
    Don't stand any closer to other people than you absolutely have to.
    Wash your hands - especially after close contact with other people.
    Support your immune system by - even when healthy - doing the 'recovery' things you do when sick: getting 7hrs sleep, dietary fibre+vitamins from fruit and vegies, drinking lots of water, y'know. Immune system boosting behaviours.
    Wash your hands - especially before eating.

    Wash your hands. Especially if you've been wearing gloves.
    Wash your hands. Especially if you've been wearing a mask.
    Wash your hands. Especially if you've been in public.
    Wash your hands. Especially if you've touched items in a shared space, like an office.
    Wash your hands.
    Wash your hands.

    use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.Most sanitisers are simply anti-bacteiral and either don't have any alcohol or have less than the recommended 60%.

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