The short answer: Soap. Soap by a mile.

Hand sanitizer may be flying off the shelves at local stores, but it’s soap that’s going to help us beat the coronavirus and stores still have plenty of it, since people are, bafflingly, stocking up on hand sanitizer but ignoring the soap aisle. You probably shouldn’t go buy all the soap, but you should probably be buying more.

Not that hand sanitizer doesn’t have its uses, if you’re nowhere near a bathroom stocked with soap and running water, but overall, health experts all say soap is better at cleaning your hands thoroughly (as long as you’re washing properly, 20 seconds and all. You are, right? Good).

Why? Washing your hands using soap and water creates friction and reduces the amounts of all types of germs and chemicals on your hands. Rinsing gets the bad stuff off your skin and down the drain, according to the federal CDC.

Hand sanitizers can reduce the germs but won’t get them off your skin. And the high alcohol content can eventually irritate and dry your skin out if you use it often enough. They’re also not strong enough if your hands are especially dirty or greasy.

According to Elizabeth Scott, an expert in home and community hygiene and professor at Simmons University, who spoke to Business Insider, the coronavirus pathogen is encased in a layer of fat that soap destroys, making the virus less able to infect you. Hand-washing can also remove pathogens from dirty hands. Drying your hands also makes the skin less susceptible to the virus (and other bacteria).

If you aren’t near a bathroom with running water and must use hand sanitizer, make sure to pick one that is at least 60 percent alcohol and use enough to cover your entire hands.

Also, don’t use booze as a substitute for sanitizer on the assumption that alcohol is alcohol. For one thing, it’s a waste of booze. For another, the kind you drink doesn’t have a high enough alcohol content to be effective. This seems an obvious fact, but at least one alcoholic beverage company felt it incumbent to advise people that all alcohol is not, in fact, interchangeable.

If you must make your own hand sanitizer, you can use a mixture of 99 percent isopropyl alcohol and aloe vera gel, but it’s easy to get it wrong and harm yourself. For one thing, too much alcohol on your skin can be harmful. And children can be harmed if they accidentally ingest the concoction. You also need to make sure the tools you use to DIY your sanitizer are themselves sanitized.

The World Health Organization has directions on its website to make your own hand sanitizer but they’re mainly geared for countries lacking clean water or medical supplies. In the end, it just seems easier to buy more soap and lather up.

Have more questions about how to protect yourself or your loved ones from coronavirus? Send them to [email protected] and we’ll try to answer them.

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