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    Home > Our Expertise > Hand sanitisers vs washing hands with soap and water

    Hand sanitisers vs washing hands with soap and water

    Hands can end up with germs picked up from the environment around us as we go about our daily lives.1,2 This is normal and only becomes a potential issue when we pick up ‘bad’ germs, which can cause sickness if they get into our system.1 But should you be washing your hands with soap and water or is just using hand sanitiser enough? This article explores both options.

    Hand sanitiser vs soap

    When should I use…
    Soap and Water

    • If your hands are visibly dirty or greasy
    • Before, during, and after preparing food, particularly raw meat
    • Before eating food
    • Before breastfeeding or feeding a child
    • Before and after caring for someone who is sick
    • Before and after treating a cut or wound
    • Before and after giving medication or applying ointment
    • After blowing your nose or sneezing, or wiping a child’s nose
    • After using or cleaning the toilet
    • After changing nappies, or cleaning up a child who has used the bathroom
    • After touching an animal, animal feed, or animal waste
    • After handling pet food or pet treats
    • After touching rubbish, household or garden chemicals, or anything that could be contaminated
    Alcohol-based Hand Sanitiser

    • If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser that contains at least 60% alcohol, and wash with soap and water as soon as you can.


    DO NOT use hand sanitiser if your hands are visibly dirty or greasy. Hand sanitiser is only effective if your hands have no visible dirt on them. If a handwashing station is available, wash your hands with soap and water instead.

    How do I use it?
    Soap and Water

    • Wet your hands with clean running water (preferably warm), turn off the tap, and apply soap or liquid soap.
    • Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
    • Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song twice.
    • Rinse your hands under clean, running water, making sure you remove all the soap.
    • Dry your hands using a clean paper or hand towel or air dry them.
    Alcohol-based Hand Sanitiser

    • Use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser that contains at least 60% alcohol. Be sure to supervise young children when they use hand sanitiser.
    • Put enough sanitiser in the palm of your hand to cover all surfaces (about half a teaspoon).
    • Rub your hands together, covering all the surfaces including between your fingers, until your hands feel dry (this should take around 30 seconds).

    Do NOT rinse or wipe off the hand sanitiser before it’s dry – it may not work well against germs.

    What is the best hand washing procedure?

    Here are the hand washing steps to help avoid the spread of germs:1,2

    1. Wet hands with warm water.
    2. Apply enough soap to cover all hand surfaces.
    3. Rub palms together (away from the water).
    4. Rubs fingers and thumbs, and the bits between.
    5. Rub nails on palms.
    6. Rub the back of each hand. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds in total.
    7. Rinse with clean, running water.
    8. Dry thoroughly with a clean towel or paper towel.

    FAQ: How to wash your hands

    Q. When should you wash your hands?
    It’s important for people to wash their hands before touching anything that needs to stay clean, or after touching anything that might contaminate their hands.1 For more detailed information on when to wash your hands, see the list above of when to use soap and water vs when to use hand sanitiser.

    Q. How often do we wash our hands?
    That depends on a person’s daily routine, how many people they interact with, and whether they are touching lots of communal objects or using public transport. In all these instances, people should aim to wash their hands properly, or use a hand sanitiser if they aren’t visibly dirty and there’s no soap and water around.2

    Q. Why is it important to wash your hands?
    Germs are everywhere and can get onto hands when we touch things throughout the day.1,2 Washing your hands is one of the most important things you can do to avoid spreading germs and to stop germs entering your body.1,2

    Q. Does hand sanitiser kill bacteria?
    Yes – the alcohol in hand sanitiser kills bacteria.3

    Q. How to use hand sanitiser?
    Always read the label and follow the direction for use. Be sure to put the recommended amount of sanitiser on your hands. Rub your hands together for around 30 seconds – until they feel dry.1,2



    Health Direct, Hand Washing. Available from: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/hand-washing (accessed July 2022).


    Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, Hand sanitiser Use Out and About. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/hand-sanitizer-use.html (accessed July 2022).


    Hand Hygiene Australia, Alcohol-based Handrubs. Available from: https://www.hha.org.au/hand-hygiene/alcohol-based-handrubs (accessed July 2022).


    Therapeutic Goods Administration, Hand sanitisers: Information for consumers. Available from: https://www.tga.gov.au/hand-sanitisers-information-consumers (accessed July 2022)