Soap vs hand sanitizer: which one should you use at home?

Understand the pros and cons of soap vs hand sanitizer to protect yourself against the coronavirus

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Soap vs. hand sanitizer: which should you be using to help minimise your risk of contracting coronavirus? Should you be stockpiling hand sanitizer at home, and if you prefer using soap, which is better: liquid or bar soap? We've got the answers, backed by real science.

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Hand soap vs hand sanitizer: which is better at home?

For use at home, opt for soap, always. Soap and water are by far the most effective method for keeping your hands germ-free – more so than alcohol-based hand sanitizers. The reason for this is that when you wash your hands with soap and water, you are mechanically removing dirt, grease, and germs. The soap is primarily there to break down the grease (that's why soaps are formulated with alkaline substances such as sodium chloride) and to simultaneously lubricate your hands so they don't feel too raw from the alkali and rubbing. 

Alcohol sanitizers are most effective in hospital environments, where medical professionals use them on hands that are already generally clean. Think of them as more of a top-up in environments that are high risk. At the moment, given the coronavirus outbreak, you may wish to top-up on disinfecting your hands between washes with sanitizer while you're out for a walk, for example, but hand sanitizer shouldn't replace soap at home. There's no need to stockpile it: ordinary soap is what you need. 

As for the liquid soap vs. bar soap debate: they're both fine. No, the pump in the liquid soap will not make you ill by harbouring bacteria: we use up liquid soap too quickly for that to happen. And no, bar soap does not hold to bacteria from your hands: it's completely safe to use a bar of soap time and time again. 

Anna is Content Editor at Real Homes. She moved to the world of interiors from academic research in the field of English Literature and photography. She is the author of London Writing of the 1930s and has a passion for contemporary home decor and gardening. At Real Homes, she covers a range of topics, from practical advice to interior and garden design.