Do Hand Sanitizers Like Purell Work?

Do hand sanitizers like Purell even work? At my old job everyone used Purell like it was going out of style. Before meetings people would hit the Purell, back at employees desks their was always a bottle of Purell nearby. I’ve always been skeptical about the effectiveness of hand sanitizers after watching an investigative piece on TV that reported that the best way to eliminate germs was to simply wash your hands with warm water.

So it was with interest I read an article in Slate on the effectiveness of hand sanitizers. The article highlighted several studies that failed to provide any real evidence that alcohol based hand sanitizers protected people from airborne viruses:

In 2005, Boston-based doctors published the very first clinical trial of alcohol-based hand sanitizers in homes and enrolled about 300 families with young children in day care. For five months, half the families got free hand sanitizer and a “vigorous hand-hygiene” curriculum. But the spread of respiratory infections in homes didn’t budge, a result that “somewhat surprised” the researchers. A Columbia University study also found no reduction in common infections among inner-city families given free antibacterial hand soap, detergent, and cleaning supplies.

Hand sanitizers often use fear-based marketing to sell their products. In the wake of the H1N1 virus sales of sanitizers skyrocketed as brands latched on to peoples heightened sensitivities to airborne viruses. The article points out a dangerous side effect of this tactic:

During the H1N1 pandemic, public-health agencies encouraged their marketing pitches despite evidence the products do little to help. It’s likely that hand-sanitizer users falsely believed they were protected from flu and thus deferred vaccination, which is by far the more effective way to prevent its spread.

For myself I try to follow an approach that reduces my risk of exposure to potential viruses. Whenever entering my home I always first wash my hands with warm water. I often wipe down high contact areas like light switches, door handles, keyboards, and phones during flu season. I also keep wipes on me to wipe down steering wheels and shopping cart handles. My belief is that a few simple steps can help you reduce some of the risk of exposure.

Be sure to check out the full article as it’s an interesting read:

Can hand sanitizers like Purell really stop people from getting the flu?

Photo credit: Blue Jay Day