Here's the lowdown on hand sanitizer from Allison Aiello, Ph.D., of the University of Michigan School of Public Health.

By Michelle Crouch
Updated September 20, 2019
Peter Ardito

Fact 1: It works.

It can be as effective as soap and water. But soap loosens dirt and bacteria off the skin and helps wash it down the drain; sanitizers kill viruses and bacteria. So if your child has any dirt or grime on his hands, he should wash them instead.

But keep in mind, new research published in mSphere in September 2019 found ethanol-bred disinfectants don't swiftly destroy the influenza A virus. The study found it takes at least four minutes to kill it, and that’s due to the “stronger than expected” mucus surrounding the virus. Only once the mucus is completely dry will the virus die. Hand washing without soap was found to be more effective—it killed the virus within 30 seconds.

Fact 2: The dose is important.

Kids need to cover their hands entirely with a nickel- or quarter-size dollop. And they should get some under their nails by scraping their palms. Don't let them wipe any off on their pants; that reduces effectiveness.

Fact 3: Ingredients matter.

Products with any less than 60 percent alcohol aren't effective and may actually encourage bacterial growth. It's best for now to stick with traditional alcohol-based gels.

Fact 4: Babies shouldn't use it.

Their skin is very thin and delicate, so the chance of alcohol absorption is high. Still, there are rarely major effects from exposure in kids under 6, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers.

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