For many Americans—68 percent of them, according to one survey—hand sanitizer is a winter staple. But it turns out, the average person doesn’t know how long the stuff lasts—and according to some research, it isn’t too long. In fact, it’s downright shocking.
“Alcohol sanitizers last only a minute or two and must be reapplied when recontamination occurs,” Philip Tierno Jr., PhD, director of clinical microbiology and immunology at NYU Langone Medical Center told the New York Daily News.
That’s right, two minutes.
What’s even more alarming is that more than half of Americans believe the disinfectants last up to 30 times longer than that, according to a survey from Healthpoint, which sells a sanitizer it claims works for up to six hours.
“Hand sanitizer is better than nothing if you are going to shake someone’s hand or if you are out on the street with no sink or paper towels, but the best germicidal thing you can do is wash with soap and water,” said Dr. Len Horovitz, attending physician and internist at Lenox Hill Hospital. (Although, you might still want to use it if you touch any of these everyday items dirtier than a toilet seat.)
However, it’s not totally without its merits. One 2010 study found that office workers who used an alcohol-based hand sanitizer at least five times each day were about two-thirds less likely to get sick than those who simply washed their hands as usual.
Still, in 2016 the Food and Drug Administration raised safety concerns around hand sanitizers, and requested more scientific evidence to prove that they are both safe and effective. The administration said they also planned to investigate whether sanitizers might be harmful to pregnant women and children.
That’s all we need to hear—suds and bubbles it is, folks. And don’t waste one more second washing your hands without these five tips from doctors.