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We all know that washing your hands with soap and water is the best way to prevent coronavirus infection. You should wash your hands for at least 20 seconds when visibly soiled, before eating and after using the restroom.

However, when soap and water are not available, public health officials recommend alcohol-based hand sanitizers as the next best option. But with limited supplies of hand sanitizer in stores and new brands you may not have seen before, how do you know if the product is killing germs?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has a growing list of hand sanitizers being recalled. The issue is that these products could contain methanol, a wood alcohol that could be toxic when absorbed through the skin and can be life threatening when ingested.

Check the Label
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says for a product to be effective it needs to have at least 60% alcohol. That alcohol may appear on the label as ethanol, isopropyl alcohol or ethyl alcohol. If a product has the appropriate alcohol percentage, it’s fine, regardless of other ingredients. If it lists an alternative disinfectant ingredient to alcohol, it is likely not to be as effective at killing bacteria and viruses.

Application is Key
You want to use a generous amount of hand sanitizer and rub it around ensuring you have completely covered your hands. It is important to let the product air dry. The CDC says if you wipe excess product off before it dries, it may not be as effective.

Not for Grease and Dirt
If your hands are visibly dirty or greasy, hand sanitizer will not work. Soap and water are the best way to clean hands in those situations. According to the CDC, people who play sports, garden outside, or handle food should always wash their hands after the activity rather than rely on hand sanitizer.