Thursday, 27 August 2020

Modern myths #3: Alcohol hand sanitisers cause bacterial mutation and help create resistant strains

The alcohol-based antibacterial rubs are effective enough that they do not create resistant strains, although antibacterial soaps may present a hazard.

But some antimicrobial soaps present challenges...

While the alcohol rub stays on the hands and is not meant to be rinsed off, the antibacterial triclosan is rinsed off before it can do all its work and then enters the water supply. In addition, products like triclosan can cause problems once they are in the water supply, and resistant strains of bacteria have been created in labs using triclosan, although it remains to be seen if it will happen in the natural environment.

Generally, antibacterial soap does not do enough to justify its use. The objective of hand washing, by rinsing in soap and water for at least 20 seconds, is not to kill bacteria, but simply to get germs and viruses off our hands. Using a sink and washing hands thoroughly 15 to 20 seconds with regular soap and then rinsing that is the most effective method of 'de-germing', or removing bacteria and viruses from your hands.

Hand washing with soap and water does not remove all the microbes from our hands, because some are an important part of our skin, and even if we did kill them, they would return.
Given that regular soap and water removes the organisms, there is often no need for an antibacterial agent, and it probably will not work anyway. Hand sanitisers are best reserved where hand washing facilities are not readily accessible.


Posted by Dr. Tim Sandle, Pharmaceutical Microbiology Resources (

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