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Antibacterial Soap and Hand Sanitizer: Keeping Nurses and Patients Healthy


Flu season is still underway and in some parts of the country, the peak has yet to hit. Influenza, or the flu, is much worse than a bad cold – it’s a respiratory illness that can cause serious complications. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), each year, between 5% and 20% of Americans contract the flu and these cases result in more than 200,000 hospitalizations and 36,000 deaths per year in the United States alone.

Other than the flu vaccine, the most obvious and best defense we have against viruses like influenza is our own hygiene, which includes how well and how often we wash our hands. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says good hand washing is like a “do it yourself” vaccine. Antibacterial soap and hand sanitizer are great ways to keep your hands clean.

Nurses wash their hands multiple times each day, between patients and as they go in and out of patients’ rooms, but sometimes there is extreme urgency to get to another patient, and patients and their family members may not always be as attentive to hand washing as they could be to stay healthy.


The best way to wash your hands is with antibacterial soap and running water. Liquid soaps are better than bar soaps, because the bars are handled by others, and they often sit in a puddle of water in between uses.

Everyone knows how to wash their hands, but not everyone does it properly. Some people wash too quickly and some miss spots. The most commonly missed spots when hand washing are the thumbs (especially on top of the thumb), in between the fingers (the webs), and—believe it or not—the ring fingers. So there is a technique to ensure that you wash your whole hand each and every time:

  • Remove your rings.
  • Place the soap in your wet hand (always wet your hands first).
  • Start rubbing the palms of your hands together to work up a lather.
  • Rub and lather the tops of your hands and fingers (don’t forget the nails), up to and including around your wrists.
  • Spread your fingers and interlock your hands, so you’re cleaning the webs.
  • With one hand, wash around the opposite thumb and then repeat with the other hand.
  • Ideally, it takes at least 20 seconds to wash your hands properly.
  • Rinse your hands under running water and then pat them dry with a clean towel or blow them dry with a mechanical dryer.

No Soap and Water? No problem!

Soap and water aren’t always available for a variety of reasons. For nurses, this could be because not all rooms have sinks that are easily available, for example, so you may need to use a waterless cleaner or hand sanitizer. These are quite effective when your hands are not visibly soiled or dirty. Sanitizers can come in a liquid form or wipes. Many facilities place sanitizer dispensers on the walls outside the patient rooms and offices, but nurses and other healthcare professionals can also carry around small, portable containers of their preferred cleanser. Whichever you use though, the physical technique is the same to washing your hands. Allow your hands to air dry completely before moving on to your next task.

Washing your hands is such an effective tool too keep everyone as healthy as possible. So remember to take the time and wash up!