Hand-washing or hand sanitiser: Which is more effective against COVID-19?

Amid concerns of COVID-19, many office spaces have resorted to hand sanitisers and 'step and wash' sinks, but which one is more effective?
Hand sanitiser used at the entrance of an office building in Kigali as a measure to avoid COVID-19.
Hand sanitiser used at the entrance of an office building in Kigali as a measure to avoid COVID-19. (Photo: Dan Nsengiyumva)

In the face of the COVID-19 outbreak, many offices are coming up with measures to fight the virus. One of them is keeping hands clean.

The initiative has seen the placement of hand sanitizers at the entrance or “step and washes” sinks commonly known as kandagira ukarabe.


How to protect yourself and others


Many are opting for the faster and easily portable way, that is, the hand sanitizer.


However, Dr. Jean Pierre Munyampundu, a lecturer at the University of Rwanda in the Biology department and specializes in molecular biology, recommends proper handwashing than hand sanitizer.

“In order to weaken the virus, it would depend on the amount of alcohol in the hand sanitiser,” Dr Munyampundu says.

Normally, he explains, hand sanitizers contain 60 to 90 percent alcohol and “the amount required to kill the protective protein layer of the virus is 70-75 percent,” adding that non-alcohol based hand sanitizers are less effective in this case.

The protective protein layer is the one that helps a virus to penetrate into a human’s body by binding to a cell membrane.

Additionally, hand sanitizers don’t kill all types of germs such as a stomach bug called “norovirus” some parasites, Clostridium difficile which causes severe diarrhea, as well as some harmful chemicals, such as pesticides and heavy metals. It is also discouraged to use a hand sanitizer if one’s hands are visibly dirty or greasy.

However, Dr. Munyampundu notes, if there is no water and soap, one may use the sanitizer and use water and soap as soon as they’re available.

How to use hand sanitizer

Apply enough product on hands to cover all surfaces then rub hands together until hands feel dry. It should take around 20 seconds. Important things to note; do not rinse or wipe off the hand sanitizer before it’s dry; it may not work as well against germs. Supervise young children when they use a hand sanitizer to prevent swallowing, especially in schools and childcare facilities.

With the above mentioned, Dr Munyampundu advises the use of water and soap to wash hands, and use of hand sanitizers where hand washing is not applicable.

Echoing the expert’s advice, the Ministry of Health in Rwanda has been urging people to use water and soap to keep their hands clean in its recent awareness messages.

How to wash hands properly

The proper way of washing hands is to wet them with clear running water (warm or cold) and apply soap. Then lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap and scrub all surfaces including the palms, backs, fingers, between fingers and under the nails. Keep scrubbing for 20 seconds or the time it takes to hum the “happy birthday” song twice. After that, rinse the hands with clear running water and dry them using a clean towel or air.





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