Take a moment to think about all of the different things you have touched today, and how many times you have bothered to wash your hands in the process. Chances are, you probably aren't setting a good example when it comes to proper hygiene. The simple solution for a lot of people is found in nearly every convenience store: hand sanitizer.

Antibacterial hand sanitizer has become very popular in recent years. As with any new invention that immediately grasps the interest of the public, there have been groups of people opposed to the newer method, arguing that it is not as effective as washing your hands on a regular basis. Perhaps you are caught in the crossfire of this such argument. I am here to explain what justifies using either hand sanitizer, or regular soap, in a variety of situations.

At Home

Which Is Better? Soap

While you're at home, regardless of your activity, soap is the hands-down best fluid to wash your hands with (no pun intended). It is always easy to keep soap well-stocked in every bathroom and your kitchen, so there is no need to fear of running out. Buying soap in large quantities, as you typically would for the home setting, will also save you a considerable amount of money, especially considering that hand sanitizer has a considerably higher unit price (even in bulk amounts).

Other than price, why isn't hand sanitizer suited for the home environment? The cheap plastic bottles that contain the substance are usually small enough to lose in an entire household. They are also unattractive, boasting no permanent alternative (metal and ceramic soap dispensers are abundant, but do not fair well for hand sanitizer). The convenience of hand sanitizer is simply not needed; faucets and soap are always available for your use.

In A Car

Which Is Better? Hand Sanitizer

On long road trips, the nearest bathroom supplied with soap could be hours away from you. Even at that, truck stop and gas station bathrooms are unsanitary, and rarely cleaned (though on occasion you'll be lucky to use one that has been recently cleaned, and therefore spotless). There is obviously no running water in cars, defeating the purpose of bringing any soap along with you. Hand sanitizer wins in this scenario, though you should still always wash your hands in truck stop or gas station bathrooms, regardless of their overall cleanliness.

In A Restaurant

Which Is Better? Soap

It is common sense that you should always cleanse your hands before using them to put food in your mouth. It may seem over-hyped that you can get serious disease by not doing so, but it is a proven fact that your mouth is home to thousands of potentially disease-inducing bacteria. For that reason, it is the outmost importance to use soap and warm water to wash your hands; provided at nearly every decent sized sit-down restaurant.

But wait, since you're out-and-about, why wouldn't hand sanitizer be the better option? The biggest reason separating the two options in this scenario is the products' effectiveness. Scientific studies have shown that hand sanitizer has still not produced the same level of germ-killing results as traditional soap-and-water practices. As with any mass-produced product in its infancy, it is to be expected that hand sanitizer has not reached its full potential at the current time. I have no doubt that a few years down the line, hand sanitizer will surpass the sterility of soap.

On a lesser, side note, also consider proper etiquette as a reason to use soap rather than hand sanitizer. On formal dinner occasions, it is a bit rude to clean your hands at the dining table with hand sanitizer. It is much more appropriate to wash your hands shortly after being seated.

In A Grocery Store

Which Is Better? Hand Sanitizer

The next time you go grocery shopping, keep track of the number of items that you touch. Considering that typically at least 5 other people have touched the same item, a grocery store is literally stockpiled with germs that will get on you, and if not killed, will harm you. There are a few reasons why hand sanitizer succeeds as the better option in this situation.

First of all, grocery stores usually do not have public bathrooms available. This is unlike most other large shopping centers. For one reason or another, bathrooms are kept more for staff-use only. If you cannot reach a bathroom, then you do not even have the option of using soap.

Even if a bathroom was available for your use, it would not be a very convenient way to handle the germs you encounter while grocery shopping. By the time you reach the checkout, it should be your priority to get refrigerated or frozen items home as quickly as possible, not taking your leisurely time to wash your hands with soap.

In A Department Store Or Mall

Which Is Better? Soap

As I have stated before, the odd employee-only bathroom situation occurs mostly in grocery stores. You will have much better luck locating public bathrooms in department stores such as Walmart or Target. Better yet, public bathrooms are a guarantee in both enclosed and open-air shopping malls.

When you make the decision to spend a couple hours at a shopping mall or large department store, you aren't obligated to rush yourself in the same way you do in grocery stores. This makes using a public bathroom to wash your hands a much lesser chore.

In The Wilderness

Which Is Better? Hand Sanitizer

A camping trip is an exciting experience, but I always find it hard to pack light. One way I save space is by bringing small containers of hand sanitizer. After all, there's never many sanitary sources of running water available at popular camping sites.

Besides the obvious space-saving qualities of hand sanitizer, it outranks soap in environmental impact. All of the hand sanitizer you use stays on your hands, and evaporates quickly. There is not need to contaminate your surroundings to clean your hands. Soap is harmful to the environment, and is prohibited in countless camping facilities for this very reason. Biodegradable soap has recently been introduced to the market for camping purposes, but still has a degree of effect on the water quality.


Which Is Better...?

Both sides of the argument have valid points, and appropriate situations for their usage. As you may have noticed, I have presented an equal amount of situations for each substance. It is evident that neither option has enough positive qualities for use as an all-in-one cleaner, so it is best to put the argument to rest.

Are you craving a solid, definite decision to help you in every imaginable situation? If one of the above scenarios does not fit you, then here are a few guidelines to help you formulate your own plan:

  • If a sanitary bathroom with soap is available, use soap instead of hand sanitizer.
  • If you have access to a bathroom, but it is not sanitary or is lacking soap, still wash your hands as well as you possibly can, then follow up with hand sanitizer.
  • If you are in a situation where your only source of water is a natural body of water, do not use soap (it will pollute the ecosystem), use hand sanitizer.
  • At formal meals and parties, using soap is proper etiquette, even if it isn't convenient.