Sanitation Discussions in the Piedmont Symposium

As the coronavirus cripples the world, keeping hands clean has been emphasized by medical experts as one of the best ways to combat the spread of the virus. But what works better, hand sanitizer or hand soap?

Two Piedmont College nursing majors, Anna Owenby and Briana Sellers, explored this question at the 2020 Piedmont Symposium, presenting their research, “Hand Soap vs. Hand Sanitizer.”

The difference between cleaning your hands with hand sanitizer or hand soap is surprisingly somewhat of a grey area. Owenby and Sellers created the hypothesis that “hand sanitizer would kill more bacteria than hand soap.”

They explored the different levels of the soaps and sanitizers they tested against the germs in the lab. The idea of this experiment was to determine which of the two serve a better prupose in. During the experiment, Owenby said she was “shocked” to see “so much growth on the Agar plates” and for different types of bacteria to “appear in so many colonies after washing our hands.”

Sellers and Owenby conducted this study by washing their hands with Up & Up and SoftSoap hand soap and placing their hands on Agar plates, which allowed them to see the colonies of bacteria that grew which showed how clean their hands really were. The same process was done with the Swan and Personal Care brands of hand sanitizer.

What was surprising to find as a part of the results was how much bacteria was still present on their hands after washing or sanitizing. Owenby especially remembers how “hand sanitizer is known for killing 99.99% of germs and there was still so many colonies on the plate.”

These results really do make you realize that just rubbing some soap and water on your hands for 15 seconds isn’t enough to get the job done effectively. For Sellers, she was happy because she was “reassured that [her] hypothesis was correct.”

Since the experiment and research required different variants to soap and hand sanitizer, it was difficult to narrow down which brands would be able to demonstrate the most clear results. For certain circumstances like this, a little help from their faculty advisor, Dr. Julia Schmitz, was utilized.

 Schmitz, a biology professor,  was tasked with watching over the operations and making sure these students were able to carefully and properly execute their experiment. “I always like seeing the questions that students come up with to answer the main one,” she said. “It’s fun to see if the results they obtain match up with their hypothesis.”

 After examining the results, Schmitz said the three “talked about why this was and had conversations about what future experiments could come out of this project.”

 When it comes to cleanliness, trial and error to find the ultimate solution is definitely worth it. Owenby’s and Sellers’ experiment showed one important thing. “Clean hands will reduce the risk of acquiring [coronavirus] or transmitting it to others.”

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