Can’t Get Hand Sanitizer? Here’s What To Do.

A person uses hand sanitizer. If hand sanitizer is unavailable, soap and water are just as helpful f...
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As people attempt to avoid getting coronavirus by cleaning their hands at every opportunity, hand sanitizer shortages have been reported across the globe. If you can't get hand sanitizer, all is not lost, medical experts tell Bustle.

"While there is much that is still unknown about COVID-19, we do know that it is mainly spread by sick people through droplets created when they talk, cough and sneeze," Dr. Robert Quigley M.D, medical director at International SOS, tells Bustle. If you touch a surface that has those coronavirus droplets on it, then touch your face, you can get sick; ergo, disinfecting your hands reduces the risk of putting your face in germs' way. "While keeping hand sanitizer within arm's reach is a simple way to disinfect hands while on the go, there are several other preventive measures that can be implemented to protect against potential exposure."

Pandemics like coronavirus are controlled in many different ways. "A comprehensive approach to controlling infections involves immunizations (e.g., against flu); frequent hand washing, use of hand sanitizer, coughing into your elbow or a tissue, avoiding close personal contact with those who are ill, as well as avoiding touching your face," Dr. David Cutler, M.D., a family medicine physician at Providence Saint John's Health Center, tells Bustle. It's a combination of those things, not just a reliance on clean hands, that will stop coronavirus from spreading between people. Here's what to know if you don't have Purell on, er, hand.

Wash Your Hands With Soap And Water If You Don't Have Access To Hand Sanitizer

When it comes to controlling the spread of coronavirus, hand sanitizer isn't actually as valuable as plain old soap and water. "Washing your hands thoroughly with soap is more effective than using hand sanitizer," Dr. Robin Patel, M.D., director of the Infectious Diseases Research Laboratory at Mayo Clinic, tells Bustle.

Quigley notes that hand-washing shouldn't just be restricted to the period after a bathroom visit. "Washing hands should be performed as frequently as possible, especially before you eat and drink as well as before, during, and after preparing food, and after touching your nose and mouth," he says. Hand-washing is also recommended by the CDC after touching objects handled by a lot of people, handling garbage, or cleaning up a space.

If You're Replacing Hand Sanitizer With Soap & Water, Remember To Dry Too

This may not seem like the most crucial step, but drying your hands after every wash is important for avoiding coronavirus. "Your wet hands may drip bacteria-infected water," Cutler says. "Anything your wet hands touch could then become contaminated." After every hand wash, hands need to be dried thoroughly with a clean towel or in an air-dryer that doesn't require touch.

Avoid Touching Your Face If You Can't Get Hand Sanitizer

Rough though it might be, avoiding touching your face can be just as important as hand sanitizer for avoiding the coronavirus. "Touching the face, mouth, nose and eyes is dangerous because it allows germs on your hands to reach moist, porous surface tissue," Cutler says. "One tip is to put a frequent reminder into your phone telling you every few minutes." Quigley also recommends being particularly wary of face-touching after you've touched something that a lot of other people have touched, like a handrail or door handle.

Disinfect Your Environment With Other Sanitizers

Even if you're practicing social distancing to protect yourself and others from the coronavirus, it's a good idea to disinfect both your home and your office space, Quigley says. "Keep your environment clean, and pay special attention to things that get touched often, like door knobs and switches," he says. Communal areas need to be disinfected regularly, and now isn't the best time to share food, drink, or pass around your phone. "Sharing of any personal items can raise the risk for infection during moments where you may not be able to wash your hands right away," Quigley says.

Don't Try To Make Hand Sanitizer At Home

It's incredible that this needs to be said, but don't make your own sanitizer at home if you want to keep coronavirus at bay. Plain old soap and water are perfectly effective, and a standard antibacterial surface spray or cleaner will help clean all surfaces without any need for drastic home-brewed disinfectant.

If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and coughing, call NHS 111 in the U.K. or visit the CDC website in the U.S. for up-to-date information and resources. You can find all Bustle’s coverage of coronavirus here, and U.K.-specific updates on coronavirus here.


Dr. David Cutler, M.D., a family medicine physician at Providence Saint John's Health Center

Dr. Robin Patel, M.D., director of the Infectious Diseases Research Laboratory at Mayo Clinic

Dr. Robert Quigley M.D, medical director at International SOS