Hand sanitizers have their limits

(KOMO file photo)

It's cold and flu season, and that means a lot of us are using hand sanitizers to protect ourselves.

Alcohol-based sanitizers – ones that are at least 60 percent alcohol – can kill some germs, including the cold and flu viruses. But health experts want you to know that they won't work if your hands are dirty.

"Hand sanitizers must be used on clean hands,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, health officer with Public Health Seattle-King County. “If there's visible dirt, grease or grime on your hands you must wash them because a hand sanitizer just won't do the trick for you. And if you have the opportunity, washing your hands will always be better for you than a sanitizer."

Dr. Duchin says you can't rely on alcohol-based hand sanitizers to protect you from the norovirus, a nasty bug that makes a lot of people very sick.

"Hand sanitizers are not highly effective against norovirus. Some doubt whether they have much effectiveness at all,” Duchin told me. “But if you don't have any choice, they're the second-best option to hand washing."

Remember: The right way to wash your hands is to rub and scrub them with soap for between 20 to 30 seconds. That’s about as long as it takes you to sing the ABC Song. A quick rinse just won't do it.

More Info: The Hand-Washing Technique That Keeps You Healthy

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