If there’s anything that the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us, it’s how to wash our hands. Or, I should say, it should have taught us that. I suppose there are still a few people out there who aren’t bothering to follow the advice of the CDC and aren’t washing their hands like they should.
Why washing your hands is important?
We were told to wash our hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water or to use hand sanitizer. What we weren’t told was what we were trying to accomplish with those actions, other than to slow the spread of the disease. Nobody bothered educating the general public on how those actions would help, so there was a lot of mockery and there were people who resisted.
Washing of one’s hands with soap and water is considered “mechanical removal of microscopic pathogens.” In other words, we’re trying to break bacteria and viruses free from the surface of our skin and rinse them down the drain. In this, soap helps in that it breaks up the oils on our skin that can be holding those microscopic pathogens in place.
Does washing kill bacteria?
By and large, washing doesn’t kill bacteria and viruses, although the soap will attach to the fat coating that protects some viruses (including COVID), reducing its effectiveness. With enough time and enough soap, it can actually break up the virus.
How does hand sanitizer work?
Hand sanitizer works totally different from that. First of all, we’re not rinsing the pathogens down the drain, as a sanitizer is usually used in places where we don’t have any running water. Rather, we’re expecting the hand sanitizer to kill the virus.
How to use hand sanitizer?
Most hand sanitizer is alcohol based. Alcohol has been proven to kill viruses, so that’s good. But what most people don’t know is that it takes 10 seconds of contact for the alcohol to destroy the virus. So, when we’re using hand sanitizer, a couple of drops won’t do; we need enough of it so that it doesn’t evaporate off our hands for at least 10 seconds, while we are rubbing it all over our hands.
The other important thing is that the hand sanitizer be at least 60% alcohol. This is where many people have made a huge mistake. There are lots of articles and videos online, just saying to use normal 70% rubbing alcohol, because it’s more than 60%. But when mixed with other things, it works out to be way less than 60%, drastically reducing its effectiveness.
Homemade hand sanitizer recipe
A proper recipe for homemade hand sanitizer is:
- 2 cups (1 pint) 91% rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol)
- 1 cup aloe vera gel (not aloe vera juice)
- 15 (or so) drops tea tree oil
When mixed together, this produces a hand sanitizer of just over 60% alcohol. The aloe vera helps prevent the skin from cracking, which is essential for keeping the virus out of our bodies.
If you’re using hand sanitizer all the time, like healthcare professionals do, then you need to be using hand lotion as well, to keep your skin from drying out. If it dries out and cracks form in the skin, they provide a direct pathway for the virus (or any other pathogen) into your body, where it can multiply and spread.