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With fears of catching the H1N1 virus, most people are looking for ways to keep themselves healthy. Obviously, hand washing is a simple way to prevent the spread of bacteria. However, some doctors say that it might be better to use hand sanitizer instead, if your hands aren’t actually grimy. In fact, according to James Scott, a microbiologist at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana Public School of Health, hand sanitizers are more effective at eliminating bacteria and keeping your hands cleaner longer than regular soap and water.

While hand sanitizers are apparently very effective in preventing the spread of bacteria, they must be used properly to reap their benefits. Specifically, consumers should look for hand sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol content and also be certain that the type of alcohol is either isopropanol or ethanol. Furthermore, it is important to apply the sanitizer correctly: hands must be free of obvious dirt or grime, then apply a palm-sized dollop to a hand and rub vigorously for 20-30 seconds, making sure to get underneath jewelry, between the fingers, under the nails and down the back of each hand and wrist.

Nevertheless, doctors don’t suggest getting rid of your soap either: while the alcohol content in hand sanitizers does kill bacteria, it isn’t very effective in “cleaning” the hands. For example, hand sanitizer cannot cut through most grime, feces, blood, or other bodily fluids that can also cause illness. Therefore, soap and water should still be the first choice in restrooms.

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