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Handwashing: Our Greatest Weapon against Covid-19

July 2, 2020 by  
Filed under Uncategorized

by Mia Armstrong, MD

WASH YOUR HANDS!!!”—the battle cry of parents everywhere!  Since the Coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) was declared at the end of 2019, people around the globe have devoted more attention to handwashing.  While handwashing in and of itself is a simple act, it is important to know the key steps to EFFECTIVE handwashing.1 Successful handwashing skills diminish the risk of spreading germs to surfaces and other people.

Here are 4 steps that will ensure effective handwashing:

  1. First, thoroughly wet both hands. Surprisingly, this is the step that is most often omitted!
  2. Using soap, lather and then rub hands together for at least twenty (20) seconds. A fun and easy way to approximate 20 seconds is to sing the “Happy Birthday Song” or the “Alphabet Song” at a moderate speed.
  3. While washing, pay special attention to the backs of your hands, underneath your nails, around jewelry, and between the fingers.
  4. Finally, rinse hands and dry well with a clean towel.

But what about hand sanitizer?!? 

While effective in a pinch when soap and water are not available, several studies have proven that hand sanitizer is not as effective at eliminating germs; good old soap and water are the most effective.2 When hand sanitizer is the best option available, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommend formulations with at least 60% ethanol or 70% isopropanol.3 In the presence of children, however, hand sanitizers pose a hazardous risk! If they are ingested, there is potential for physical harm. Ethanol and isopropanol are both alcohols, and the ingestion of large amounts of alcohol can affect the central nervous system (brain, spinal cord, and nerves). It can cause low blood sugar, loss of consciousness, and even death! While a taste or small amount of hand sanitizer may not be lethal,4 as people are buying larger amounts of hand sanitizer during the COVID-19 era, it may pose more of a risk to the children in your home.  The best way to limit this risk is to store containers of hand sanitizer out of reach and supervise well when children are around it and using it.  Hand sanitizer should be handled with care in much the same way as any other chemical or medication in your home.  It should be stored in a high location, out of reach from the littlest hands.  In the home, purses or diaper bags containing hand sanitizer should be placed in a secure location. When riding in a car, these bags should be closed and in the supervisor’s eyesight at all times.

In the event of an accidental (or intentional) ingestion, call POISON CONTROL immediately: 1-800-222-1222.5

In addition to the potential risk of hand sanitizer ingestion and poisoning, there have also been concerns of containers of hand sanitizer exploding when left in hot cars — a likely phenomenon that may occur more frequently as summer progresses and we experience higher temperatures.  Several pictures of car interiors with burn damage have gone viral (pun intended!) on social media.  While this occurrence has not been substantiated, there is significant evidence that hand sanitizer is combustible when ignited by an open flame.6 Therefore, hand sanitizer is not a completely benign substance.  Yet, we cannot ignore the benefits of its use in a situation when soap and water are not available.  So, with knowledge and extreme caution, this necessary evil can still be used for good…not only fighting off Coronavirus, but other “bad guy” germs that may cause illness and destruction!  So, a parent’s life would not be complete without imploring their children to “wash your hands!”  Ideally, handwashing would be with soap and water using the steps detailed above.  When that is not the case and hand sanitizer is the next best option, it is my hope that your hand sanitizer will both be used and stored safely.  Happy handwashing!


  1. https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/hand-washing.html
  2. https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/show-me-the-science-hand-sanitizer.html
  3. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/hand-hygiene.html
  4. https://www.poison.org/articles/2007-jun/hand-sanitizer-whats-the-real-story
  5. https://www.poison.org/
  6. https://www.cdc.gov/handhygiene/firesafety/index.html


About the Author

Mia Armstrong, MD is a Board-Certified Pediatrician and a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics.  According to her mother, she dreamed of becoming a Pediatrician since the age of three years old!  She accomplished her goal by receiving her Medical Degree from the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta, GA.  She completed her Pediatrics training in Jackson, MS at the University of Mississippi. Dr. Armstrong loves caring for children and teaching families how to be healthy! Though she enjoys working with children of all ages, she has a special interest in teaching new parents to care for their newborns and offering breastfeeding support as a Certified Lactation Counselor. Her other medical interests include asthma education, routine well care, and immunizations. She also enjoys traveling and exploring new cuisines and adventures. Dr. Armstrong loves to talk, never meets a stranger, and is excited to share her insight with parents everywhere through her blogs!



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The information on MommyMDGuides.com is not intended to replace the diagnosis, treatment, and services of a physician. Always consult your physician or child care expert if you have any questions concerning your family's health. For severe or life-threatening conditions, seek immediate medical attention.