Which is better: washing your hands with soap and water or using a hand santiser?
Much has been written by soap manufacturers about the benefits of washing hands in the traditional way. Many are quick to point out that the combination of soap and water is a better option than using a sanitiser since the physical act of hand washing removes any soiling and bacteria. Manufacturers of sanitising products, meanwhile, argue that alcohol gels are a fast and effective option, particularly in situations where there is no water supply. And sanitisers also actually kill 99.9% of bacteria on hands rather than simply rinsing it away. Soaps contain surfactants which mean they increase the ability of water to clean hands. Surfactants also help to loosen and emulsify any dirt on the skin which can then be easily rinsed away. When using soap, the oily dirt on hands is broken down by a chemical action while the friction created by rubbing hands together uses a mechanical method to remove the soiling. This means that the longer hands are rubbed together with soap and water, the fewer microbes will remain. Drying hands with a paper towel is a further aid to hand hygiene since the physical act of rubbing will remove any remaining bacteria. Damp hands provide a breeding ground for bacteria, too, which is why hands need to be thoroughly dried after washing. Washing hands with soap and water in the traditional way is second nature to most of us after visiting the washroom, before preparing food, before eating etc. Hand sanitisers have become available only relatively recently and these tend to be used as a supplement to hand washing in hygiene-critical sectors such as healthcare. They are highly convenient in situations where there is no water supply or where hands need to be sanitised quickly – before a patient procedure, for example. But some people are cautious about using them in place of soap and water. There is also a common fear that hand sanitisers might actually promote antibiotic resistance, or that the medical staff that use them could inhale the alcohol fumes or ingest it into the body via their hands. Experts point out that, unlike soap and water, sanitisers do not physically remove the dirt from hands. And studies have shown them to be ineffective against certain threats such as those posed by the norovirus and C.difficile, for example. According to the Center for Disease Control in the US, many people use an insufficient volume of hand sanitiser on their hands to effectively kill bacteria or else they rub it off before it has had a chance to dry. This is also the case for soaps. Thorough hand washing takes time since attention must be paid to all parts of hands including the thumbs, backs of the hands, fingertips, and the areas between the fingers. However, this can also be said of hand sanitisers which need to come into contact with all surfaces of hands. Only when the solution has evaporated and hands are thoroughly dry will they be effectively sanitised. However, one important factor to consider when deciding between soaps and sanitisers is: which system is most likely to be used? In a busy hospital where emergencies occur regularly, it makes sense to provide plenty of hand gel stations so that staff can sanitise their hands quickly between patients. Washing hands thoroughly with soap and water might be the ideal scenario but there are occasions when walking to a hand wash station and washing hands for 30 seconds – and then thoroughly drying them – could delay a vital patient treatment. And in any case, some of the objections to alcohol sanitisers – that they might promote antibiotic resistance or lead to staff ingesting the alcohol via hands – have been refuted by the World Health Organisation. According to the WHO there has been no reported or likely resistance to alcohol-based hand rubs, while studies show that blood-alcohol levels of healthcare workers remain insignificant after using sanitisers. Today’s products are constantly evolving and both hand soaps and sanitisers are becoming more user-friendly all the time. Around 20-30 years ago, many healthcare employees had to wash their hands using strong, astringent soaps before drying them with abrasive paper towels that would often leave their hands feeling tight and uncomfortable. Since hand washing had to be carried out frequently, conditions such as occupation dermatitis were common. Early alcohol gels also used to be strong and astringent and would often have a tendency to dry out the skin. This made some healthcare professionals reluctant to use them. However, many of today’s soaps and alcohol gels for the healthcare sector have been specifically formulated to be gentle on hands and prevent them drying out. Meanwhile, Britain’s hospitals have woken up to the need for using softer hand towels that not only prevent hands from drying out when used frequently, but that also do a more effective job of drying hands. Soft, highly absorbent towels act like blotting paper and soak up water, removing the damp conditions that form a perfect breeding ground for bacteria.
So it appears that both soaps and sanitisers are viable solutions and that each complements the other. NICE and the Center for Disease Control both recommend the use of hand sanitisers in the first instance in healthcare except when the hands are visibly soiled and when there is a potential contamination risk from Clostridium difficile or the norovirus. But in order to improve hand hygiene in healthcare, staff needs to be educated about the most efficient ways of washing, drying and sanitising the hands. And they should be given easy access to wash stations containing effective and user-friendly soaps and hand towels, plus sanitiser stations equipped with effective products that are also kind to hands. Once healthcare staff know what to do and how to do it – and are given the tools to do it quickly, easily and thoroughly – hand hygiene will become second nature and this will lead to healthier outcomes across the board.
(Original Source Cleaning News Cleaning & Maintenance)