Hand Sanitizer Guidelines and Recommendations

Key points

  • Washing hands with soap and water is the best way to get rid of germs in most situations.
  • If soap and water are unavailable, use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol to clean your hands.
  • You can tell if the sanitizer contains at least 60% alcohol by checking the product label.
Person using hand sanitizer

Why it's important

Germs are everywhere! They can get onto hands and items we touch during daily activities and make us sick. Cleaning hands at key times with soap and water or hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol is one of the most important steps you can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to those around you.

There are important differences between washing hands with soap and water and using hand sanitizer.

Keep in mind‎

Soap and water work to remove all types of germs from hands, while sanitizer acts by killing certain germs on the skin.

Sanitizers can quickly reduce the number of germs on hands in many situations. However,

  • Sanitizers do not get rid of all types of germs.
  • Hand sanitizers may not be as effective when hands are visibly dirty or greasy.
  • Hand sanitizers might not remove harmful chemicals, such as pesticides, and heavy metals like lead.
  • Soap and water are more effective than hand sanitizers at removing certain kinds of germs like norovirus, Cryptosporidium, and Clostridioides difficile, as well as chemicals.
Keep Reading: Hand Sanitizer Facts

How it works

  1. Apply the gel product to the palm of one hand (read the label to learn the correct amount).
  2. Cover all surfaces of hands.
  3. Rub your hands and fingers together until they are dry. This should take around 20 seconds.



  • Put enough sanitizer on your hands to cover all surfaces.
  • Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
  • Supervise young children when they use hand sanitizer to prevent swallowing alcohol, especially in schools and childcare facilities.


  • Don't rinse or wipe off the hand sanitizer before it's dry; it may not work well against germs.
  • Don't use hand sanitizer if your hands are visibly dirty or greasy—for example, after gardening, playing outdoors, fishing, or camping. If a handwashing station is available, wash your hands with soap and water instead.