Do hand sanitizers actually work?

They make us feel better, say experts—but only psychologically

Antibacterial hand sanitizers have been so successfully marketed as an antidote to the microbiological minefield of daily life that they’ve fuelled a paranoia about personal cleanliness dubbed HSOCD (hand sanitizer obsessive compulsive disorder), reports the Times of London. Sales have soared 80 per cent in the past two years. But do they work? According to medical specialists, they do make us feel better—but only psychologically. The products have become “a psychological safety net for people who have become alarmed by high-profile viruses,” says Dr Anthony Hilton, a microbiologist at Aston University. He reports there’s no evidence that they offer “significant additional protection.” Other studies have shown that while antibacterial products may initially remove more harmful organisms than soap and water, within 90 minutes there is no difference in the number of bacteria on your hands. Some argue hand sanitizers may even do more harm than good. Professor Allison Aiello, an epidemiologist at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, found that the antibacterial chemical triclosan caused some bacteria to become resistant to commonly used antibiotics. All bug experts agree on one thing: washing your hands well with soap and water is vital in fighting disease.

The Times of London

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.