Stay Clean with Proper Hand Hygiene

Even though your hands may look clean, they can still carry germs that are invisible to the human eye. Both influenza (the flu) and the common cold are viral infections that spread when someone who is infected coughs or sneezes.1,2 Micro-organisms (germs) can cause the cold or flu in a number of ways, such as when you touch your eyes, nose or mouth after sneezing, or when you touch contaminated surfaces.1,4 Let’s look at how to practice proper hand hygiene, as well as the differences between hand sanitizers and soap and water.

How to keep your hands clean

The most effective thing you can do to protect yourself against a number of infections, including the common cold and the flu, is to practice good hand hygiene.3,5

You can perform hand hygiene either by using soap and water, or with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.5 Make sure your hand sanitizer contains at least 60% alcohol to effectively kill germs.6

Follow these steps for proper hand hygiene:3

Soap and Water

  • Remove jewellery
  • Wet hands up to the wrists with clean, running water (warm or cold) and apply soap
  • Lather by rubbing your hands together with the soap. Don’t forget to lather the back of hands, between fingers, and under nails
  • Scrub hands for at least 20 seconds
  • Rinse hands under running water
  • Dry hands with a clean towel, or let them air dry

Hand Sanitizer

  • Remove jewellery
  • Make sure your hands are dry and not visibly soiled
  • Use enough sanitizer to cover the whole surface of hands
  • Rub the liquid into your palms, back of hands, between fingers and under nails until completely dry (about 20 seconds)

Hand sanitizer can be used when soap and water are not readily available.3 Your hands should not be visibly dirty, greasy, or wet (such as after gardening, fishing, or playing outside); soap and water work better in this case.3

Minimizing your risks

Remember to perform hand hygiene at the following key times to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to those around you:4

  • Before and after eating food
  • Before and after caring for someone who is sick
  • After using the toilet or changing diapers
  • After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
  • After touching an item or surface that may be frequently touched by other people
  • After touching your face mask

Soap or Sanitizer – What to Choose?

Soap works by creating a chemical reaction that grabs on to cold and flu germs. Rubbing wet hands with soap helps loosen germs, dirt, and grease from the skin and are rinsed off with the lather.5

Soap is available in different formulations, such as bar, liquid, or foaming preparations. If skin dryness is a problem, a moisturizing lotion can help provide relief.3 You can also find soap with added moisturizers to help keep your hands from drying out.

Some soaps also have added antibacterial ingredients such as triclosan. While these soaps might seem stronger or more effective, antibacterial soap is not necessary for safe, effective hand hygiene.7

Hand sanitizer gels, foams, sprays, and wipes containing at least 60% ethyl alcohol (ethanol) or isopropyl alcohol (isopropanol) work by killing cold and flu germs on your hands. Hand sanitizer removes cold and flu viruses from your hands, but will not remove all types of germs.3

Alcohol-based products are flammable and can be toxic if accidentally consumed. Make sure sanitizer is stored out of reach from children and away from heat or flame.

Avoid using disinfectant wipes or baby wipes for hand hygiene. Disinfectant wipes are intended to be used on hard surfaces and may cause irritation on your hands. Baby wipes may not effectively remove germs from your hands if they do not contain at least 60% alcohol.

Proper hand-washing is an important step to help keep yourself healthy, and to prevent the spread of germs to others. Alcohol-based sanitizer is a quick and convenient way to reduce the spread of cold and flu viruses, especially when you are on the go. Speak with your Shoppers Drug Mart® pharmacist if you would like to learn more or to find the right product for your hand hygiene routine.


  1. Flu (influenza): Prevention and risks (2020). Retrieved from: Accessed July 15, 2021.
  2. Colds (2020). Health Link BC. Retrieved from: Accessed July 15, 2021.
  3. Hand Washing: Reducing the Risk of Common Infections (2021). Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety. Retrieved from: Accessed July 20, 2021.
  4. When and How to Wash Your Hands (2021). CDC. Retrieved from: Accessed July 15, 2021.
  5. Information about Hand Hygiene (2021). IPAC Canada. Retrieved from: Accessed July 15, 2021.
  6. Hand Washing and Staying Healthy (2021). Retrieved from: Accessed July 20, 2021.
  7. Triclosan (2019). Retrieved from: Accessed July 15, 2021.

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