By now, you’ve seen guidelines for washing your hands with soap and water. Scrub for 20 seconds. Pay attention to your thumbs and fingernails. Don’t touch the faucet once your hands are clean, and use a clean towel.
The emphasis on using regular soap and water is no accident. It’s the best way to get rid of germs of all kinds, and when done correctly, it’s effective against the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
You should wash your hands regularly, especially after spending time in public, before preparing food or eating, and after you sneeze, cough, or blow your nose.
But you may not always have access to hand soap and a sink. In a pinch, hand sanitizer can be a convenient alternative.
To use hand sanitizer effectively against the coronavirus, you need the right type, amount, and application method.
Choose the Right Hand Sanitizer
Because the COVID-19 pandemic has made some name-brand sanitizers harder to find, you may see new brands on store shelves. Before putting a bottle in your cart, read the product label.
You should choose an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol.
The Food and Drug Administration has also advised against hand sanitizers that contain methanol, a substance that can be toxic when rubbed into skin. Some hand sanitizers are labeled as containing ethanol or ethyl alcohol but actually contain methanol. You can use the FDA’s searchable database to make sure your hand sanitizer brand isn’t one of the offenders.
In addition, the FDA has not approved any hand sanitizers, so steer clear of brands labeled “FDA-approved.”
Homemade hand sanitizer is not recommended. If it’s not made correctly, hand sanitizer can be ineffective or even harmful to your skin.
Use the Right Amount of Hand Sanitizer
One mistake many people make is using too little hand sanitizer, especially if your dispenser doesn’t provide enough in one squeeze.
The World Health Organization recommends applying a “coin-sized amount” of gel. In other words, you need enough hand sanitizer to cover both sides of your hands and between your fingers – just as you do with hand soap.
Apply Hand Sanitizer Correctly
After applying the gel, rub it in thoroughly. Pay attention to the back of your hands, thumbs, and between your fingers. Like washing your hands at a sink, this process should take about 20 seconds.
When you’re done, your hands should be dry. Don’t wipe or rinse off the gel.
Storing Hand Sanitizer
Chances are, you’re using more hand sanitizer these days than ever before. But sanitizer does have a shelf life. Its alcohol content gradually drops as the expiration date approaches. If you have expired hand sanitizer, dispose of it and get a new bottle.
Store your hand sanitizer in a cool, dry location. Avoid direct sunlight and repeated exposure to heat.
When you return home, bring your hand sanitizer inside instead of tossing it into the glovebox or a cup holder. While there’s little risk of combustion, extreme heat can speed up alcohol evaporation—especially if air gets inside the bottle.
Hand Sanitizer Safety
Keep these safety tips in mind to avoid irritation or poisoning:
- Never ingest hand sanitizer.
- Keep hand sanitizer out of the reach of children and supervise their use.
- Don’t touch your eyes, nose, or mouth immediately after use.
- Don’t handle fire or open flames immediately after use.