Lately, killing germs seems like it’s become the latest trend. Practically every day a new cleaner or sanitizing product gets put on the market. The real question is, do these products work and do they actually make a difference in keeping your family healthy?

The quick and easy answer to these questions is yes. Hand sanitizers have been proven to kill germs and yes, they do prevent the spread of disease. Hand sanitizers with over 60% alcohol content have been shown to kill up to 99% of bacteria. While these tests were done on solid flat surfaces and not on hands, or even skin, several studies show that in homes where sanitizers is used in addition to soap, there is less spread of disease from one family member to another.

While hand sanitizers do kill germs, there are some things that they can’t clean. They cannot break down dirt and other non-biological materials. Plus, if your hands are dirty, the sanitizer is less effective on the germs. You should wash your hands if they are visibly messy, or if you’ve been cooking (sanitizers can’t break down fats or proteins).

The easiest way to tell if a hand sanitizer is an effective germ killer is to check its alcohol content. There are many new sanitizers that are alcohol free because it is claimed they are safer. If fact, hand sanitizers are fairly safe if used as directed and these alcohol-free sanitizers aren’t as effective at killing germs. A good sanitizer should contain at least 60% alcohol.

While hand washing is recommended, hand sanitizers do actually have one benefit over antibacterial soap. These soaps, along with alcohol-free sanitizers (or ones with low alcohol content) kill germs with antibiotic ingredients. These ingredients don’t kill all the bad germs, and the ones they don’t kill can develop an antibiotic resistance. This means if someone does get sick, antibiotic medicines may or may not make them better. Plus, they kill good bacteria that actually help keep you healthy. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers kill bacteria differently and don’t carry the risk of antibiotic resistance.

While hand sanitizers can be great for a quick clean up when you can’t get to a sink, it’s still important to wash your hands with soap and water when you can. Regular hand washing is the key to keeping your family happy and healthy. Just remember to wash hands with warm water, for at least twenty seconds (you can sing Happy Birthday while you scrub) and to use a towel to turn off the faucet. If you use a good soap, antibacterial ingredients really aren’t necessary.

If you combine soap and water with the proper use of hand sanitizer, you can help keep your family happy and healthy for a long time.