Consumer Reports: Is washing with soap and water better than hand sanitizer?

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Fall may be in the air, but winter is on its way and flu season is already here.

The health team at Consumer Reports says one key to staying on your feet is by paying attention to your hands.

"It's so important to keep your hands clean. Hand washing, with soap and water is the ideal, hand sanitizer is the next best option," said Catherine Roberts, Consumer Reports Home Editor.

According to the CDC, alcohol-based sanitizer can kill some germs, such as cold and flu viruses when used correctly, but sanitizer is not reliable against several other germs, including norovirus - that's the common and highly contagious stomach bug.

And it may not be as effective if your hands are visibly dirty with grime.

One recent study even found that washing your hands with water alone without soap might do a better job of removing flu virus than hand sanitizer did!

But they say you should still use soap.

The best way to clean your hands is to wash with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

"Hand washing removes germs from your hands. Hand sanitizer can kill germs, but it doesn't always get all of them. Which makes hand washing a better bet," said Roberts.

If you really can't get to a sink and you're using hand sanitizer, look for one with at least 60 percent alcohol.

Cover the surfaces of your hands and fingers and rub it in until it's dry.
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