Soap or Hand Sanitizer? Study Looks at What Works for Toddlers

Little kids pick up germs everywhere they go – especially toddlers. A recent study looks at what’s more effective in keeping little ones free of respiratory infections – soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizers.

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CLEVELAND – Little kids pick up germs everywhere they go – especially toddlers.

A recent study looked at what was more effective in keeping little ones free of respiratory infections – soap and water, or alcohol-based hand sanitizers.

The study looked at 911 children between the ages of 0-3 who were enrolled in daycare facilities.

They divided the children into three groups: one group did their normal hand-cleaning routine, one group was instructed on how to properly wash with liquid hand soap, and the third group used liquid hand sanitizers.

Researchers found that over an eight-month period, the group of children that used the hand sanitizers had 23 percent fewer respiratory infections.

“It’s not necessarily that soap and water is less effective, but rather that very young children are not as good at washing their hands,” said Frank Esper, M.D., a pediatric infectious disease expert at Cleveland Clinic Children’s who did not take part in the study. “It’s a much more complicated situation to put soap on your hands, wring it under the water, and do it well for twenty seconds, as opposed to a squirt of alcohol sanitizer and rub, rub, rub and you’re done.”

Dr. Esper said the study results are by no means a reason to toss out your soap and water – he said both methods are really good at stopping infections.

If anything, he said this study tells us that little kids should continue to use soap and water, and that it’s important to teach the skill of proper hand washing to the very young, so that they can master it as they get older.

“Kids and babies are supposed to get infected – it’s going to happen,” said Dr. Esper. “But, how badly they get infected, and how often they get infected, is something that can be controlled with good hand hygiene.” 

Dr. Esper said it’s best to supervise hand hygiene routines for very young children, regardless if they are using soap or sanitizer, to make sure they are washing thoroughly and to make sure they are using them correctly and safely.

Complete results of the study can be found in Pediatrics.

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