Antibac gel vs soap and water – which was the winner?

Hand washing instead of alcogels

“If it was my choice I would go with hand washing”

Doctors Chris and Xand van Tulleken’s BBC television programme The Twinstitute puts a number of competing health theories to the test by enlisting the assistance of 13 pairs of identical twins.

In episode five of the recent series, they put hand washing to the test, by putting traditional soap and water techniques against alcohol gel rubs.

Half of the twins being tested spent four days washing their hands with soap and water, whilst the other half used so-called alcogels.

Good hand hygiene techniques are important – however you wash

Hand cleansing techniques have to be undertaken in the correct fashion for them to actually be effective whichever method is being used, maintained the programme’s presenters. In the case of soap and water hand washing, it has to take place for around 20 seconds, or the amount of time that it takes to sing “happy birthday” twice, said Doctor Chris van Tulleke, who is an infectious diseases doctor.

After four days of diligently observing their chosen hand washing regime, the twins assembled to learn the results, when hands were pressed into gel plates, which were then sent off to incubate fo five days, allowing the bacterial colonies to grow.

Microbiologist Dr Lisa Cross was then asked to analyse the results.

Hand hygiene method conclusions

The “soap regime” conclusion was that “…soap and water reduced the number, but not the type of bacteria on their hands”.

The antibac regime has actually changed the type of bacteria on the twins’ hands which could be potentially harmful.

“It seems that by temporarily killing nearly all the bacteria on our hands, we could be paving the way to allow bad bacteria to take hold.”

“So it’s a win for soap and water” was the conclusion.

Dr Cross summed up the results by adding

“If it was my choice I would go with hand washing.”

The hand washing report can be seen in BBC iPlayer and begins around 14 minutes into the programme (available to UK viewers only).

The Twinstitute episode 1:5 on BBC iPlayer »

How to wash your hands video

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