And what about those soapless sanitizers? Some folks at the Harvard Medical School wondered the same things, so they did a review of all the studies on the topic. The upshot: Eh.
Beyond easing your mind, the more expensive products will indeed clean your hands if you use them right, but "plain old soap and water is still a good way to clean your hands," the researchers write in this month's issue of the Harvard Health Letter. In a review of previous studies, they conclude that "antibacterial soaps available to consumers don’t add much to hand hygiene," and "antibacterial soaps aren’t the all-purpose germ fighters that many people think they are."
The tricks, regardless of which soap you use, is washing for 15 seconds (about the time it takes to sing one chorus of “Happy Birthday to You,” the researchers note [and we'd like to add: please sing to yourself] ). Doing this with regular soap reduces bacterial counts by about 90 percent. A second tip: Dry your hands, lest the remaining bacteria spread more easily.
And the alcohol-based hand sanitizers that require no water or towel? "Alcohol doesn’t kill everything" and the rubs need to come into contact with all surfaces of your hands, so "using small amounts is really no better than washing with plain soap and water."
Oh, and don't touch the doorknob on the way out of a restroom. A separate study found the lots of people lie about whether they wash their hands. Ewwwww!