Piedmont Symposium: Hand Sanitizer or Hand Soap?

As the coronavirus pandemic spreads, one solution to avoid infection is to keep your hands clean. Which works better, hand sanitizer or hand soap? 

Piedmont students Anna Owenby and Briana Lesniak-Sellers sought to find an answer to that question, concluding that hand soap is better for cleaning your hands. They present their study, “Hand Soap vs. Hand Sanitizer” at the 2020 Piedmont Symposium. 

Lesniak-Sellers uses a spot flashlight after washing her hands with soap one day and notices that there is still a lot of bacteria on her hands. This is what motivates Lesniak-Sellers and Owenby to conduct an experiment on soap and sanitizer. They have always been told that hand sanitizer kills more germs than soap so their hypothesis states, “Hand sanitizer would kill more bacteria than hand soap and that hand soap was not more effective when washing your hands.” 

However, they are surprised after finishing the experiment. Hand soap kills more and stops more colony growth compared to hand sanitizer. During the experiment, Owenby and Lesniak-Sellers test two different soaps and sanitizers. They contaminate their hands and place it on Agar plates, then they clean their hands and do the same thing. They let the plates sit at a temperature of 37 degrees Celsius for 24 hours. If the temperatures slightly change while sitting for 24 hours, it would definitely change the results. 

Although they started the study before the COVID-19 outbreak, the students recognize the importance of their research at this critical time. “Emerging scientific studies have proven the spread of COVID-19 can be reduced by the simplest tasks of just washing your hands,” Lesniak-Sellers said. 

Owenby was not expecting her outcomes of the experiment but it helps lead her into her next project. “We can further test handwashing by repeating this experiment and test if air drying or using a paper towel to dry our hands will reduce bacteria production.”

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