Should You Use Antibacterial Hand Gels?

What should you do when soap and water are unavailable? Use antibacterial hand gels.

By Jack Galbraith, M.D.
Family Medicine Specialist
t. Anthony’s Medical Center

It’s the perfect time of year to get the family together for a picnic in the park and maybe a visit to a petting zoo.

We all know that no outing is complete without a snack or lunch; but too often there’s no place to wash your hands – and people typically carry between 10,000 and 10 million bacteria on each hand. 

What should you do when soap and water are unavailable?  Use antibacterial hand gels.  These gels are convenient, effective ways to wash and sanitize hands without soap and water.  Their main ingredients are ethanol and/or isopropanol, along with a moisturizer to minimize irritation to the skin. 

When using antibacterial hand gels, you should keep in mind that they do not kill germs instantly.  The alcohol-based gels must evaporate on the skin in order to work properly.  It is important to allow the gel to evaporate on hands, rather than wiping hands dry.  It’s also a good idea to rub hands together during the evaporation process because the friction enhances the germ-killing process.  Some of the gels take about 15-30 seconds of rubbing and drying to thoroughly kill germs. 

But while antibacterial hand gels are effective in killing germs and bacteria, they don’t remove the dirt, which should be washed off as usual when running water becomes available. 

The directions for usage may vary somewhat from brand to brand, so individuals should follow the directions for the specific product they use. 

Because germs and bacteria eventually build up resistance to antimicrobial products, use of those products should be reserved for when they are really needed.  The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that such resistance to antimicrobial products already has been noted in some countries. 

While the antibacterial hand gels may be the most convenient option in some situations, it’s important to note that traditional hand washing is still the best way to prevent the spread of germs.  Good hand washing is the best way to prevent outbreaks of disease. 


Dr. Jack Galbraith, a Family Medicine specialist, is a member of St. Anthony’s Physician Organization.  He practices at St. Anthony’s Family Health Partners, at 59 Grasso Plaza in Affton.  Call 314-543-5258 for an appointment.  For a referral to any St. Anthony’s physician, call 314-ANTHONY (268-4669) or 1-800-554-9550.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.


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