BY DR PETER KADILE
Dr. K, I’m seeing more of those fancy hand dryers in public restrooms. Are they better than the paper towels?
Lawrence, Rancho Mirage
Lawrence, while hand dryers may be better for the environment since they don’t use paper, they are not as effective as paper towels in keeping your hands bacteria free after washing them. Hand dryers will also tend to spread bacteria around the area because it is also blowing whatever germs are left on your hands after washing.
An interesting statistic about hand washing is that while 95 percent of men and women surveyed say they wash their hands after using a public restroom, only 67 percent actually do. Remember that after you shake someone’s hands. Some people also consider that simply wetting your hands without soap is effective, which it is not.
If you are going to use a public bathroom, I recommend you initially wash your hands when you first get there because you don’t know what you were touching and you are going to be handling your intimate body parts. When you are done with your business, wash your hands again with soap and water. If paper towels are available, use them to shut off the faucet. If you have to use a paper towel dispenser, try and use your elbow on the handle to avoid touching it with your newly cleaned hands. Also remember to use a paper towel to grab the handle of the restroom door when you leave. If 33 percent of people don’t wash their hands after using the restroom, I can only imagine what kind of bacteria live on a restroom door handle.
Since I’m going on another rant about the importance of washing one’s hands, especially after using a public restroom, have you ever used your cell phone in the restroom? Have you ever seen somebody using their cell phone in the restroom?
Whatever our hands touch, our cell phones touch. Cell phones have been found to have 18 times more harmful bacteria than a public restroom. Our phones get warm from the battery and we also tend to store them in warm, dark places such as purses and pockets. The warmth or heat can make them good breeding grounds for bacteria. So if you are diligent about washing your hands, don’t forget about your cell phone! Rubbing alcohol and cotton swabs can be used to clean your phone and there are also cleaning products specifically available for use on cell phones.
Dear Dr. Kadile, I work in the fitness industry as a personal trainer. I frequently work at several different gyms with different clients in one day. Is using hand sanitizer between gyms and clients as good as washing my hands?
Lyn, La Quinta
Lyn, gyms and fitness equipment are notoriously full of nasty germs, since not everybody uses a towel or wipes down the equipment after using it.
Hand sanitizers are generally made up of alcohol, glycerin, water and maybe some fragrance added. The alcohol is the main germ fighter. A good hand sanitizer should have an alcohol concentration of at least 60 percent. Hand sanitizer is beneficial if hand washing is unavailable, but it is not as good. Using a hand sanitizer is good in addition to hand washing. Really, the best way to clean your hands is with soap and water. Washing gets rid of most germs and breaks up oils and removes dirt, which can hide bacteria and germs. Hand sanitizer simply works on the surface of the skin, whereas hand washing will get the water and soap into the small cracks and crevices of the skin. You’ve got the right idea in cleansing your hands between clients, but hand washing is better than hand sanitizer.
Dear Dr. Kadile, is antibacterial soap better than regular soap?
Glen, Palm Desert
Glen, research has shown that plain soaps are just as effective as antibacterial soaps in reducing bacteria related illnesses. As I’ve said in previous issues of CV Weekly, most upper respiratory infections are caused by viruses, thus antibacterial soap wouldn’t help in preventing colds and flu. Proper and thorough hand washing is the key, so make sure you wash your hands for at least 20-30 seconds.