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For clean hands, scrub and squirt
We all know it's important to wash your hands, but is there a difference between old-fashioned soap and water and hand sanitizer

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Date published: 10/18/2009


Huge bottles of hand sanitizer are the most fashionable new desk accessory, prominently displayed as if to say, "Bring it on, H1N1, I'm ready for the flu season."

Brands like Purell and Germ-X are not just for preschools and doctors offices anymore. Small bottles end up in the bottom of purses and pockets. Keychain bottles mean that no matter the location, germ-killing is never more than a glob of clear gel away.

But is hand sanitizer really all it's cracked up to be? And whatever happened to soap and water?


Having clean hands is one of the most important ways to prevent getting sick, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC says washing hands for 20 seconds with soap and water is preferable, but "if soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based product to clean your hands."

"We use both," said registered nurse Heather Carelock, the school nurse at Hugh Mercer Elementary School in Fredericksburg. "But soap and water is our primary."

She explained that when they enter school, many children do not know how to properly wash their hands. So it's her job to teach them. Kids are notorious germ carriers, and the H1N1 flu seems to be hitting them hardest.

Carelock said she teaches kindergartners to sing either "Mary Had a Little Lamb" or "Happy Birthday" while they lather since some are not able to count to 20 yet. That way, the children get a feel for just how long they should be washing their hands.

Carelock also puts up posters with the six steps for hand washing in the halls at school.

The school--like many others--has a bottle of hand sanitizer in each room that students can use with a teacher's supervision. But "Our main focus is on effective hand washing," Carelock said.


The reminder to "wash your hands" is everywhere, especially with the double threat of regular flu and the new H1N1 flu. But not everyone is walking around with clean hands.

The Soap and Detergent Association does a survey every year about hand washing and releases a Clean Hands Report Card based on the results. This year, the SDA gave Americans a grade of B-minus, up from a C-minus in 2008.

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