Still think hand sanitizers work just as well as soap and water? A recent classroom experiment gone viral might change your mind.
Special education teacher Dayna Robertson and behavioral specialist Jaralee Metcalf, who work at Discovery Elementary in Idaho Falls, ID, set out to teach their students a lesson about the importance of handwashing — armed with just a loaf of bread.
“We took fresh bread and touched it. We did one slice untouched. One with unwashed hands. One with hand sanitizer. One with washed hands with warm water and soap. Then we decided to rub a piece on all our classroom Chromebooks,” Metcalf says in a Dec. 5 Facebook post.
They put the bread in resealable plastic bags and waited 3 to 4 weeks. The results weren’t pretty. While the slice touched by clean hands was in near-perfect condition, the one the teachers rubbed on the computers was almost covered in mold, along with the piece touched by dirty hands. But the slice handled by students who used only hand sanitizer had a good amount of mold, too.
WebMD Senior Medical Director and pediatrician Hansa Bhargava, MD, says hand sanitizers don’t work as well as people think they do — certainly not better than handwashing.
“Handwashing is probably the most effective way to prevent infections … [it] can get rid of dirt, spores, and pesticides, while sanitizers may not,” Bhargava says.
In one study, a 30-second hand wash killed the flu virus. But hand sanitizers didn’t, even after using them for 2 minutes, Bhargava says.
How you wash your hands is just as important as what you use to clean them — a 2-second rub and rinse won’t cut it. Follow these CDC guidelines:
- Wet your hands with clean running water (warm or cold) and get some soap.
- Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap.
- Scrub all surfaces of your hands, including the palms, backs, fingers, between your fingers, and under your nails. Keep scrubbing for 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song twice.
- Rinse your hands under clean, running water.
- Dry your hands using a clean towel, or air dry them.
Metcalf says she and her family have been sick, along with a lot of students and teachers, so the experiment was a “shocking and enlightening” one that made them more aware of classroom hygiene.
“As somebody who is sick and tired of being sick, and tired of being sick and tired: Wash your hands! Remind your kids to wash their hands!”