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Soap up before sanitizing to maximize germ-killing potential: study

Hand sanitizers claiming to kill 99.9 per cent of germs actually kill far fewer in real-world conditions, a University of Ottawa microbiologist has found.

While sanitizers may indeed kill nearly all the germs in lab conditions, in ordinary life they're second-best to soap and water, a new study shows.

Jason Tetro still recommends — and uses — the alcohol-based gels and foams, but only as a supplement to washing with soap, or in situations where there's no way to wash.

His study on a group of Grade 8 children shows that sanitizers kill most of the germs on scrubbed skin, but only half or fewer of the germs on hands that aren't washed often.

At the request of CBC-TV, Tetro designed the experiment using one class of schoolchildren in Hamilton, Ont.

First, he took a sample of germs from one hand of each child. He then had them use sanitizer and swabbed again to see what proportion of bacteria remained. (The study didn't count viruses, such as the ones that cause influenza, which are much tinier.)

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