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The Hand Wipe / Antibacterial Gel Debate

Research in the early 2000's conducted by the Center for Disease Control concluded that alcohol hand wipes were less effective than alcohol gel rubs. Newer research, as well as the production of newer hand wipes with higher concentrations of alcohol, may have changed that axiom. While it remains up to the consumer about which form of hand sanitizing they are more comfortable with using, it is worth examining the differences between the two options.

Alcohol Based Wipes

These wipes, available under a wide variety of brand names, are a common sight in offices, retail stores and restaurants. They are eminently convenient and are effective at killing around 70% of bacteria on hands. While this number is significant, it still does not live up to alcohol gel rubs or hand washing with soap and water for a few important reasons. Even at high concentrations of ethyl alcohol they have proven to be ineffective at killing bacterial spores, essentially baby bacteria. One possible explanation for this difference is the cloths inability to insinuate the alcohol into the tiniest crevices of the hand, which liquid water and soap or gel rubs do.

Alcohol based wipes remain popular however thanks to their convenience and the fact that they don't leave the hand soaked with alcohol as tends to happen when one uses too much sanitizer gel. They also often include lotions and scents that many people find appealing. They also offer the ability to sanitize surfaces like the handles of carts or table tops in public spaces. Ultimately while they are no substitute for a good scrub with soap and water they are good alternative when such a thing is not possible.

Alcohol Gel Rubs

Alcohol based gel sanitizers have proven to be very effective at killing most bacteria on hands, including bacterial spores, at a rate of about 90%. Rubs with a high concentration of alcohol, similar to those found in most household cleaning supplies, have also been found to effectively kill many common viruses. While alcohol based rubs are still generally considered better than wipes, they are still no substitute for hand washing with soap and water, which, thanks to the combined action of water, soap and friction have an effectiveness of as high as 99% when done thoroughly.

Gel rubs remain popular as a portable means of hand sanitizing since the small bottles can easily be transported in a bag or pocket or even on a key chain and are recommended for those times where there is no opportunity for hand washing.