Hand Sanitisers vs. Soap and Water: The Battle for Clean Hands

Maintaining good hand hygiene is crucial for preventing the spread of infectious diseases in densely populated Singapore. Two popular methods are hand sanitisers and traditional soap and water handwashing. While both serve the same purpose of cleansing hands, they have distinct advantages and limitations that make them more suitable for different situations.

The Power of Hand Sanitisers

Hand sanitisers containing at least 60% alcohol, such as ethanol or isopropanol, have proven to be effective against a wide range of bacteria, viruses, and some fungi. Their convenience and ease of use make them an attractive option, especially when soap and water are not readily available, such as in hawker centers, on public transport, or during outdoor activities.

One of the significant advantages of hand sanitisers is their ability to quickly kill most germs on the hands without the need for water or a sink. However, it's important to note that hand sanitisers may not be as effective in removing visible dirt, grease, or certain types of germs like hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) and gastroenteritis, which are common illnesses in Singapore.

The Traditional Approach: Soap and Water

Washing hands with soap and water remains one of the most effective ways to remove germs, dirt, and other contaminants from the hands. This method is effective against a wide range of pathogens, including those that are resistant to hand sanitisers, such as HFMD and gastroenteritis, which can spread quickly in Singapore's hot and humid climate.

The mechanical action of rubbing hands together with soap and water helps dislodge and remove germs, dirt, and other contaminants. However, proper handwashing technique, which includes lathering with soap for at least 20 seconds and thorough rinsing, is crucial for effective hand hygiene.

When to Use Hand Sanitisers

Hand sanitisers are the preferred choice in situations where soap and water are not readily available, such as during commutes on public transport, while visiting hawker centers, or during outdoor activities like hiking or picnics in Singapore's parks. In healthcare settings, hand sanitisers are often used between patient encounters or when hands are not visibly soiled. Additionally, hand sanitisers can be a convenient option after using the toilet if soap and water are not available.

When to Choose Soap and Water

While hand sanitisers are convenient, soap and water are preferred in certain situations. When hands are visibly dirty or greasy, such as after handling food at hawker centers, hand sanitisers may not effectively remove these contaminants. Before eating or preparing food at home, washing hands with soap and water is recommended, as hand sanitisers may not remove all types of germs from the hands.

In healthcare settings, when caring for patients with HFMD or gastroenteritis infections, soap and water handwashing is essential, as hand sanitisers are less effective against these pathogens. Additionally, after using the toilet, soap and water are more effective in removing certain types of pathogens, such as HFMD and gastroenteritis.

The Bottom Line

Both hand sanitisers and soap and water play important roles in hand hygiene in Singapore, and the choice between the two should be based on the specific situation and availability of resources. When both options are available, washing hands with soap and water is considered the most effective method for removing a wide range of pathogens and contaminants from the hands. However, hand sanitisers are a convenient and effective alternative when soap and water are not readily accessible, especially in Singapore's busy urban environment.

Maintaining good hand hygiene is a simple yet powerful way to prevent the spread of infectious diseases in Singapore. By understanding the strengths and limitations of hand sanitisers and soap and water, individuals can make informed decisions and adopt the most appropriate method for keeping their hands clean and protecting themselves and others from illness.