Hand hygiene: Hand washing how and when to do it? Hydroalcoholic gel or natural soap?

Why wash your hands?

Because they are the main vector of microbes and impurities in our environment. Our hands touch many surfaces during the day, and we gladly wear them on the face, nose, mouth … Suddenly, the authorities recommend washing your hands with soap and water too as often as possible, and certainly after all contact with “public” surfaces because hand washing reduces the amount of all types of germs and unclean products on the hands.

What to wash your hands with?

With soap and water of course! The soap is ideal for removing ALL types of germs and viruses from the hands. Only if soap and water are not available, should you then opt for the use of a hand sanitizing gel. This gel should contain at least 60% alcohol at 90 °, difficult to find. The gel can help avoid getting sick and spread germs, but it is less effective than washing with soap (see in particular the study by the team of Dr. Hirose of the University of Tokyo).

Our main allies to wash your hands properly are therefore, in order:


  • liquid soaps: these are real soaps and not shower gels or washing gels. Do not confuse: foaming gels are based on sodium laureth sulphate or other surfactants, while soaps are the result of the saponification of oils using soda lye (you must find in the INCI the words sodium olivate, sodium palmate, sodium xxx-ate). It is this presence of saponified fatty substances that is important, so use liquid soap rather than “foam pusher” type gels, etc. Check the ingredient list.


  • solid soaps: they are suitable for hand washing and do the job perfectly. But they are less nomadic than liquid soaps that you can pour in a small bottle and take everywhere with you. They are also a little less hygienic if they have bathed for example in water instead of being well hung and dried in the open air, and that they are used by many people. However, it is wrong to think that they could be colonized by bacteria on the soap itself, because you can imagine that the soap itself is an environment completely hostile to germs and bacteria.


  • hydroalcoholic gels: they are only necessary when you are “without water” for more than an hour. Soap and water are not usable? So we have to use gel. But it is only when there is no water  

(see this ANSM report).

 This can be the case for more than an hour or two (example on the train or on a bus). The rest of the time, it is better to have your small bottle of liquid soap and go to the toilet or tap to wash your hands with it.

There are several reasons. On the one hand, it is because people misuse it, but also because only the formula of a soap (a real one) “breaks” the lipids of the virus …

So for example, people are likely to misuse the gel, not put enough on their hands, or wipe the gel before it has completely dried and been able to do its disinfection work. Studies show that this is unfortunately often the case, except in hospitals where the gel has proven to be effective.

Another telling example, we know that the influenza virus can survive in the mucus of sputum secretions even if it is in contact for 2 minutes with a disinfectant gel. This is a recent Japanese study which proves it (still by the team of Dr. Hirose). In this study, the same virus exposed to soap does not survive beyond 30 seconds. We know that the flu virus, like the coronavirus, has a lipid envelope, a capsid which preserves its RNA (nucleic acid) inside the virus. And soap is a detergent that can break down lipids. 


Very dirty hands or epidemic?  Go for the soap!

Several studies show that hand sanitizers work well in clinical settings like hospitals, where the hands come in contact with germs but are generally not very dirty or greasy. However, gels are less effective than soap and water when the hands are very oily or soiled. This is the case in community kitchens, after sport, or in leisure activities in nature or by public transport. When the hands are very dirty, the gels work less well.


What soap should you choose to cleanse your hands?

Since you have to wash your hands very often, you might as well use a soap that is naturally less aggressive for the skin. This is the case with so-called “surgras” soaps. Oil was added to it at the end of the saponification process. This reduces their detergent effect and is relatively aggressive for the skin.

Almost all cold soaps are superfat, and it should be remembered that their manufacturing process makes them naturally richer in glycerine, which is all good for sweetness.


Follow these five steps every time:

  1. Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.
  2. Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
  3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
  4. Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
  5. Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.


How to wash properly your hands