The Great Debate: Soap vs Hand Sanitizer?

If you’re like most people, your hands are probably dirty right now.

A person’s hand usually carries 3,200 bacteria from 150 species at any given moment. So even if you can’t see it, your hands are likely in need of cleaning.

This has become a hot topic recently, as the pandemic encouraged more people to frequently wash and sanitize their hands.

Hand washing, using hand sanitizer wipes, and gel and liquid sanitizers have all become more common in recent years. But when it comes down to soap vs hand sanitizer, which is better?

Read on to find out the best way to practice hand hygiene.

Washing With Soap and Water

From childhood, most of us have been told how important it is to wash our hands. And washing with soap and water has traditionally been the go-to method.

But even though using soap and water is tried-and-tested, there are both pros and cons when compared to hand sanitizer.


For the best clean, basic soap and water are all you need.

Water alone can rinse away some grime and germs, but it isn’t reliable enough on its own. When you add soap, though, up to 99.9% of bacteria can be removed from the hands with a 30-second lather.

This is done through molecules in the soap that combine water and oil. This then breaks up dirt, oil, and bacteria that are then washed away with water when you rinse your hands.

You don’t need special antibacterial soap to reap the bacteria-busting benefits of soap and water. Almost any simple bar, liquid, or foaming soap will do.


Though soap and water can remove almost all germs from the hands, this is only if you wash your hands correctly—and unfortunately, most people don’t.

Many people rush through hand washing, which should take at least 20-30 seconds. They may also not lather up the soap all over the hands, instead only quickly rubbing their palms together.

This reduces the effectiveness of soap and water.

People may also touch more contaminated surfaces in order to wash their hands. But this problem can be eliminated with automatic soap dispensers (to see some options, click here) and automatic water faucets.

Finally, one of the biggest drawbacks of using soap and water is that you must have a sink nearby.

When you’re unable to visit a bathroom, washing with soap and water is nearly impossible. That’s why a more portable, on-the-go option like hand sanitizer may be more popular for some.

Cleansing With Hand Sanitizer

Hand sanitizer promises to clean your hands like soap, but without having to deal with running water.

Most hand sanitizer is alcohol-based, but some alcohol-free options are available on the market too. Sanitizer can come in a watery liquid, gel, or foam consistency.

And you can easily carry your own or rely on a hand sanitizer dispenser in places like restaurants and shops.

Hand sanitizer can be a quick and convenient choice. But like using soap and water, it has its own benefits and drawbacks to consider.


Arguably the primary reason to use hand sanitizer is because of how easy it is to use any time, anywhere.

Many public places now offer hand sanitizer at their entrances or in their restrooms. And small bottles of hand sanitizer can be easily stored in your bag or even stuffed in the pocket of your jeans.

And like soap and water, hand sanitizer can protect against harmful bacteria. Some brands even claim to kill 99.9% of the germs on hands, but so far there aren’t studies that can prove this.


Hand sanitizer may be convenient but at a cost.

First, hand sanitizer doesn’t kill as many different types of germs as traditional hand washing. It also doesn’t remove oil, dirt, and other residue left on hands that water can rinse away.

Another issue is that hand sanitizer’s effectiveness isn’t always guaranteed. Some hand sanitizers don’t contain enough alcohol to kill many of the bacteria covering our hands.

They may also contain other ingredients (in non-alcohol options) that claim to cleanse, yet they aren’t effective at reducing germs.

And like soap and water, not everyone uses hand sanitizer properly. With sanitizers, it’s easy to miss parts of the hand or fingers when rubbing in the product, leaving large areas untouched.

Soap vs Hand Sanitizer: Which is the Winner?

If you have a choice between hand sanitizer vs soap and water, the old-fashioned way may be best.

Whether facing a major pandemic or just your average cold and flu season, washing with soap is known to eliminate a large variety of germs from the skin.

It may require a bit more time and mindfulness to do properly, but the benefits are worth it.

And unlike hand sanitizer, you don’t have to worry about the effectiveness or percentage of ingredients in your soap in order for it to be effective. Any alkaline soap (which is generally any kind of soap) can remove bacteria and impurities from your hands.

Staying Healthy Starts With Your Hands

Our hands are covered with thousands of bacteria, some of which could make us sick. That’s why hand hygiene is essential to our health.

When comparing soap vs hand sanitizer, hand sanitizer may be the safer and more effective choice. But remember that any kind of hand cleansing product is usually better than none.

When hand sanitizer is your only option, use that instead of soap and water. The most important point is to prioritize keeping your hands clean, no matter which method you choose.

Learn more about health and other product recommendations in our lifestyle articles!