Stocking up on Softsoap and Purell? Join the scrub.
Coronavirus panic has anxious New Yorkers swarming drugstores and supermarkets for germ-killers. And with public health specialists stressing the importance of keeping your hands clean during a viral outbreak, hand soaps and sanitizers are flying off the shelves.
But are these products really effective against COVID-19 — and are some better than others?
“From what we know about this coronavirus, it’s similar to [previous epidemics of] SARS [severe acute respiratory syndrome] and MERS [Middle East respiratory syndrome], so it should not be that difficult of a microorganism to kill,” Dr. Nahid Bhadelia, medical director of the special pathogens unit at Boston Medical Center, tells The Post. “Soap and water, and alcohol-based hand sanitizers, can kill it.”
As for what’s most effective, experts agree that washing your hands is generally the better choice: It’s more effective at removing stubborn grime — which bugs can cling to, and potentially feed on — and at killing certain pathogens. Lathering up will also help you ward off more than coronavirus. “It’s going to protect you from other infectious diseases, too, like the flu and diarrheal diseases,” Bhadelia says.
Hand soap is still available at locations where sanitizer has sold out.
Hand soap is still available at locations where sanitizer has sold out.Mark Mellone
Any kind of soap will do. There “isn’t enough science” to suggest that over-the-counter antibacterial soaps are any more effective at preventing illness than plain old soap and water, according to the Food and Drug Administration.
But if you can’t get to a sink quickly — during your commute, for example — hand sanitizer and wipes can be an effective tool to kill illness-causing germs. Those made with at least 60 percent alcohol tend to be the most effective, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Check the back of the label for phrases like ethyl alcohol, ethanol, isopropanol or n-propanol — all are fine.)
Some “natural” sanitizers make the cut: Dr. Bronner’s organic hand sanitizer spray, for example, is made with 62 percent ethyl alcohol, and Purell Naturals hand sanitizer, made with “plant-based alcohol” and “essential oils,” consists of 70 percent ethyl alcohol.
But it’s not enough to buy the best brand. You also have to learn how to use it right.
“You can have all the hand sanitizer and soap you want, but unless you’re washing correctly or using it the right way, you may still have virus on your hands,” Bhadelia says.
The CDC recommends wetting hands with clean, running water — warm or cold is fine — and then applying soap. When lathering, make sure to get the backs of your hands, between fingers and under nails. Scrub for at least 20 seconds (hum the “Happy Birthday” song twice), rinse well and then dry with a clean towel or let them air dry.
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