DEAR MAYO CLINIC: I’ve heard many times that handwashing is the best way to prevent illness. But how often is it enough? I have small children, and I want to keep them as healthy as possible. Is hand sanitizer a good alternative to soap and water?
ANSWER: You’re correct that frequent handwashing is one of the best ways to avoid getting sick and to keep from spreading any illness you may have to someone else. There’s no magic number for how often you should wash. Just try to make sure your hands are consistently clean. Soap and water always work well. But if you don’t have access to a sink, hand sanitizer is a good choice, too.
Bacteria, viruses and other germs surround us every day and live in the same environments we do. As you touch objects, surfaces and other people, germs can be transferred to your hands. When you then touch your eyes, your nose or your mouth, the germs can get inside your body and potentially make you sick. Cleaning your hands gets rids of the germs, lowering your risk for illness.