Hands gel or soap? How to wash your hands at home


As you know, you’re surrounded by microorganisms every day. Therefore, washing your hands properly with soap and water or using a hands gel is one of the most important steps that you can take to protect yourself against diseases and prevent spreading them to those around you.

But do you know the main differences between washing your hands with soap and water and cleaning them with hand sanitiser? Believe it or not, soap and water are more effective at removing certain types of germs than hand sanitisers. However, alcohol-based hand sanitisers can effectively kill many types of microbes when used correctly.  Often, not enough product is used, or it is wiped off before it dries.

Washing your hands prevents infectious respiratory diseases caused by bacteria or viruses, such as COVID-19 or the flu, and gastrointestinal diseases, such as diarrhoea. Knowing when to wash your hands and which method to use will help you prevent diseases.

When should they be used?

Soap and water

  • Before, during and after food preparation.
  • Before eating.
  • Before and after caring for someone who is ill.
  • Before and after treating a cut or wound.
  • After using the toilet, changing nappies, or wiping a child who has used the toilet.
  • After blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.
  • After touching an animal, animal food or treats, animal cages or droppings.
  • After touching rubbish.
  • If your hands are visibly dirty or greasy.

Alcohol-based hands gel (sanitiser)

• Before and after visiting a friend or family member in hospital or a care home, unless the person in question is ill with Clostridium difficile (washing your hands with soap and water will suffice).

• If there is no soap and water available, use alcohol-based hand sanitiser that contains at least 60% alcohol.

* Do NOT use hand sanitiser if your hands are visible dirty or greasy: for example, after playing outside, gardening, or after fishing or camping (unless there is no option to wash your hands).

How should they be used?

Soap and water

  • Wet your hands with clean water (warm or cold) and apply soap.
  • Lather your hands well by rubbing between your fingers, not forgetting your thumbs.
  • Rub all surfaces of your hands, including the palms, back, fingers, between your fingers and under your nails. Lather for 20 seconds. If you need to time yourself, sing “Happy Birthday” twice!
  • Rinse your hands under clean running water.
  • Dry your hands well.

Alcohol-based hand sanitiser

Use an alcohol-based hands gel sanitiser that contains at least 60% alcohol. Supervise small children when using hand sanitiser and ensure that it is kept out of the reach of children, especially in schools and nurseries.

Apply enough product to the hands to cover all parts.

Rub your hands together until they feel dry. This should take around 20 seconds.

Note: Do not rinse or wipe your hands until the hand sanitiser is dry, or it might not work against germs.


Alcohol-based hands gel can be useful when you are away from home, and whenever hands are visibly dirty. In general, washing with soap and water at home is recommended, as it removes microorganisms and dirt, and is kinder to your skin.

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