Following official guidance, many of us stocked up on hand sanitizer to keep our hands clean and avoid being infected with coronavirus. But what you may not realize is, just as with soap and water, there are right ways and wrong ways to use it. (Before COVID-19, how many of us washed our hands for a full 20 seconds?) We asked experts to tell us the most common mistakes people make when using hand sanitizer.
When possible, washing your hands for 20 seconds is your best bet against germs. “An impractical use of hand sanitizer is using it in replacement of soap and water,” says Stephen Loyd, MD, chief medical director at JourneyPure. And remember that hand sanitizer can only do so much. “Hand sanitizer should not be used for visibly soiled hands,” says Inna Husain, MD, an otolaryngologist in Chicago.
The Rx: “Nothing cleans your hands better than soap and water, so hand sanitizer should only be used when you don’t have access to a handwashing sink,” says Loyd.
“Another mistake is that people don’t completely saturate their hands with hand sanitizer,” says Loyd. They might only be covering the palms or the backs of their hands.”
The Rx: “It’s important to put it between your fingers, as well as under the nails, to distribute the sanitizer evenly,” says Loyd. “You want to apply hand sanitizer in the same way you would if you are washing your hands with soap.”
“Hand sanitizers kill not only bad bacteria, but also communal good bacteria, which can be irritating to the skin,” says Dr. Rhonda Kalasho, a double board-certified dentist in Los Angeles.
The Rx: “Hand sanitizer is much more drying for the hands than soap and water, so it’s easy to get dry skin from over-using hand sanitizer,” says Loyd. “People should moisturize their hands immediately after use, preferably with a cream.”
“Hand sanitizer should have at least 60 percent alcohol,” says Husain. “The higher the concentration of alcohol, the more effective it will be.”
RELATED: Registered dietician Ilana Muhlstein lost 100 pounds and shows you how in her new Amazon bestseller, You Can Drop It!—pre-order yours today!
“People need to keep hand sanitizer, especially nicely scented ones, out of the reach of young children,” says Heather Finlay-Morreale, MD, a pediatrician in Sterling, Massachusetts. “Young children can drink them and get poisoned.”
“One common mistake people make when using hand sanitizer is that they fail to rub it in all the way,” says Loyd. “It’s important to continue to rub it into your skin until it dries.”
The Rx: “Give hand sanitizer time to take effect,” says Husain. “I have seen people squirt a small amount, then immediately touch their face. Give it at least a minute to dry.”
“The sanitizer pump has been touched lots of times by people with unclean hands,” says general practitioner Dr. Giuseppe Aragona. “It can harbor similar levels of germs to door handles, cash and ATM keypads.”
The Rx: Pump with the side of your hand or fist, and don’t touch any part of the bottle after you’ve applied hand sanitizer.
Because of panic buying, your local store might have run out of hand sanitizer. You may be tempted to create your own. Experts advise against it; it’s easy to mistakenly create a mixture that’s not strong enough to kill germs. “I’ve seen people try and make sunscreen before, and the worst-case scenario was people being sunburned,” says Aragona. “With COVID-19, the worst-case scenario is death and infecting dozens of other people.”
Because of the hand sanitizer shortage, you may be tempted to use a smaller amount of sanitizer than usual to make it last longer. But that may not kill germs as expected. A common mistake is “not applying the right amount, and not applying to both hands,” says Magdalena Cadet, MD, a rheumatologist based in New York City. “Don’t forget under fingernails and the back of the hand, as well as the entire palm.”
Panic buying is purchasing a product in large quantities, fearing an upcoming shortage. If you stockpile hand sanitizer, you’re not allowing others to get the resources we all need to fight the virus.
And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don’t miss these 40 Things You Should Never Touch Due to Coronavirus.