5 Mistakes You’re Probably Making with Hand Sanitizer

updated Dec 2, 2020
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As coronavirus cases spike across the country once again, it’s important to remain vigilant—and our best defense is still to keep a safe distance, wear a mask, and clean your hands often. But, as much as we’ve learned about sanitizers this year, there are still some mistakes that you might be making. Here’s a refresher on what you should know, and what you should avoid, when using hand sanitizer.

1. You’re using a DIY hand sanitizer.

Most DIY hand sanitizers just don’t work. In order to reduce your chances of getting sick and stop the spread of germs, hand sanitizers need to contain at least 60 percent alcohol. For COVID, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest an even high concentration, saying alcohol solutions “with at least 70 percent alcohol … should be effective.” The bottom line is that homemade solutions just don’t get there, including ones made from vodka, which is typically 80 proof—or 40 percent alcohol.

2. You’re not using enough hand sanitizer.

According to the CDC, you want to use enough hand sanitizer to cover all surfaces. That means enough to cover both hands, front and back and in between your fingers.

3. You’re not waiting for the hand sanitizer to dry.

Up there with not using enough hand sanitizer is not waiting long enough for it to dry. If it’s not dry, it might not be effective. “Rub your hands together until they feel dry”—about 20 seconds—advises the CDC.

4. You’re using hand sanitizer when your hands are visibly dirty or greasy.

In order to work, hand sanitizer needs sufficient contact with your skin. If your hands are covered in dirt or grease, rubbing them with hand sanitizer isn’t going to do anything. What to do instead? Wash your hands with soap and water, dry them, then use hand sanitizer.

5. You’re using hand sanitizer instead of soap and water.

Soap and water are actually more effective in certain situations than hand sanitizer. For example, they’re better at removing germs like “norovirus, Cryptosporidium, and Clostridioides difficile, as well as chemicals,” according to the CDC. They recommend soap and water as your first line of defense and hand sanitizer when soap and water are not available.