Hand Soap vs Hand Sanitizer Presentation Educates Piedmont Students

Matthew P. Alter


DEMOREST, GEORGIA- In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Piedmont College students Briana Sellers and Anna Owenby presented a highly relevant session, “Hand Soap vs Hand Sanitizer,” at the 2020 Piedmont Symposium.

As the COVID-19 crisis began to unfold and President Donald Trump’s COVID-19 Task Force and state government officials communicated guidelines for how to stop the spread of the disease, one of the main preventative steps is to practice good hygiene, and most importantly, washing your hands regularly for 20 seconds. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported that you could use hand sanitizer if you were not near water and soap. This resulted in a debate as to which one was more effective, hand soap or hand sanitizer, and the pandemic provided additional proof points for this presentation.

Even though Sellers and Owenby had a hypothesis that hand sanitizer was more effective, their experiment proved that hand washing was better. “I think the biggest takeaway should be hand washing, when done correctly with hand soap, is the biggest remover of germs that cause diseases,” Sellers said.

Even though the timing of the pandemic and symposium lined up well, Sellers noted that she and Owenby had planned on doing this topic from the beginning because it was a part of a lab exercise they did in their microbiology class. “Our main source of information to prepare was the lab report we made up for our microbiology classroom assignment,” she said.

Sellers and Owenby worked for a few weeks leading up to the symposium to prepare, but they had to rethink the presentation once everything moved to online. “My partner, Anna and I, had to quickly become accustomed to the Zoom Format and learn how to use power point and screen share with it,” Sellers said. “We met and spoke about three times. Each time was a little bit of getting a feel for how we would present after things moved to an online format.” 

Dr. Julia M. Schmitz, associate professor of biology and adviser for the project, was involved in creating the presentation. “I helped guide the students in developing the experiment such as making sure they had the proper controls. The students wrote a lab report on their findings which I gave them feedback on. The students than used this information to create the presentation which they did together.”

Ray Schultz, retired biology teacher who also holds a master’s degree in biological science, agreed said the students’ findings make sense. “The combination of hand soap with warm water covers the hands more thoroughly, as you’re able to work it into skin, knuckles, fingers and fingernails. Hand sanitizer doesn’t have the same coverage. The chemicals in the hand soap neutralize the virus immediately, whereas the hand sanitizer is hit or miss.”

Many students found the presentation to be very informative and influential, especially given the COVID-19 pandemic that is currently going on. One student noted in an anonymous feedback form for the session that Sellers’ and Owenby’s findings were very helpful.

“I really enjoyed your presentation and thought it gave very interesting and useful information, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the student wrote. “I also believed that hand sanitizer was more effective in killing germs, so it helped me learn how to keep myself even more safe by washing my hands instead of using hand sanitizer.”

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