Soap or Purell? Which one works better?

Maintaining proper hand hygiene is of utmost importance in preventing the spread of germs and illnesses. In this article, we will delve into the effectiveness, benefits, and drawbacks of two popular hand sanitization options: soap and Purell. By understanding their mechanisms of action, comparing their effectiveness, and exploring their unique benefits, you will be able to make an informed decision on which option works better for your hand hygiene needs.

Understanding Soap

Mechanism of Action

Soap operates through a fascinating mechanism, utilizing its molecular structure to tackle dirt, grime, and germs. As you apply soap and water to your hands, the soap molecules surround and encapsulate these unwanted substances. Through the mechanical action of rubbing your hands together, soap lifts away dirt and grime, effectively removing them from your skin.

Effectiveness of Soap

Soap’s efficacy goes beyond its ability to remove visible dirt. It also targets specific pathogens, including notorious ones such as norovirus and Clostridium difficile. Extensive research and studies have repeatedly demonstrated the effectiveness of soap in handwashing, making it a reliable choice for maintaining proper hand hygiene.

Benefits of Soap

Accessibility and affordability are two key advantages of soap. It is widely available and economical, making it accessible to individuals from all walks of life. Furthermore, with the selection of mild, pH-balanced formulas, soap proves to be gentle on the skin, ensuring a comfortable handwashing experience. It also possesses moisturizing properties, preventing dryness and keeping your skin healthy. Regardless of your skin type, soap is generally well-tolerated and rarely causes adverse reactions or allergies.

Exploring Purell

Mechanism of Action

Purell, a popular hand sanitizer, employs active ingredients such as ethyl alcohol or isopropyl alcohol to combat germs. These alcohols possess antimicrobial properties that play a crucial role in their effectiveness. Upon application, alcohol denatures the proteins within bacterial cells, leading to their breakdown and ultimate demise.

Effectiveness of Purell

Purell claims to eradicate 99.9% of germs upon contact. Its broad spectrum of effectiveness extends to a wide range of germs, making it a reliable option when access to soap and water is limited. Purell serves as a valuable solution in scenarios where quick sanitization is essential, ensuring you can maintain hand hygiene even on the go.

Benefits of Purell

One of the standout advantages of Purell lies in its convenience and portability. Hand sanitizers are available in various sizes, including pocket-sized options, allowing you to carry them effortlessly wherever you go. Purell’s quick evaporation further adds to its appeal, as it leaves no residue behind. With no rinsing required, it offers a practical solution for maintaining hand hygiene when water is not readily accessible.

Comparing Effectiveness

Soap vs. Purell: Killing Germs

Soap stands out for its ability to physically remove dirt, grime, and specific types of pathogens. By contrast, Purell excels in providing quick sanitization in situations where soap and water are not readily available. While both are effective in killing germs, the specific approach they employ sets them apart.

Considerations for Choosing the Right Option

When deciding between soap and Purell, several factors come into play. Thorough handwashing with soap and water remains the gold standard for hand hygiene, and it is advisable whenever possible. However, Purell serves as a suitable alternative in instances where soap and water are inaccessible, such as during travel or in public places. Assessing individual needs and circumstances is vital to make an informed choice between the two options.

Drawbacks and Limitations


  1. Requirement of water for proper use, which may not always be available: Soap necessitates the availability of water for effective handwashing. In certain situations, such as outdoor activities or emergencies, access to water may be limited, rendering soap less practical.
  2. Potential for dryness, irritation, or skin conditions with excessive use or harsh soaps: While soap is generally gentle on the skin, prolonged or frequent use, especially with harsh formulas, can lead to dryness, irritation, or even skin conditions like dermatitis. It is important to choose mild, pH-balanced soaps to minimize the risk of adverse effects.
  3. Risk of bacterial contamination if soap bars are not stored properly: Soap bars can harbor bacteria if they are not stored in a clean, dry area between uses. It is crucial to allow the soap to dry thoroughly after each use and store it in a soap dish or container that promotes proper drainage to prevent bacterial growth.


  1. Potential for dryness and irritation with continuous use, especially for sensitive skin: Alcohol-based hand sanitizers like Purell can cause dryness and irritation with prolonged or frequent use. Individuals with sensitive skin may be more prone to these effects. It is advisable to moisturize the hands regularly and use Purell in moderation to minimize any discomfort.
  2. Inability to remove visible dirt or grime from hands: While Purell effectively kills germs, it does not physically remove visible dirt or grime from the hands like soap and water do. In situations where hands are visibly soiled, using soap and water for thorough handwashing is crucial before resorting to Purell for additional sanitization.
  3. Need to use Purell in well-ventilated areas due to alcohol fumes: Purell and other alcohol-based hand sanitizers emit fumes that may be irritating when used in poorly ventilated spaces. It is important to use hand sanitizers in well-ventilated areas to minimize inhalation of these fumes.

Best Practices for Hand Hygiene

Proper Handwashing Technique

Wet your hands, lather with soap, scrub thoroughly for at least 20 seconds, paying attention to all surfaces of the hands, including between fingers and under nails. Rinse well with water and dry hands completely using a clean towel or air-dry them.

Correct Usage of Hand Sanitizers

Apply a palmful of hand sanitizer to one hand, rub hands together, covering all surfaces, until dry. Ensure thorough coverage, including fingers, nails, and wrists, and continue rubbing until the sanitizer has evaporated.

Complementary Approach

  1. Incorporating both soap and Purell in hand hygiene practices: While soap and water should be the primary choice for handwashing, Purell can serve as a valuable supplement, particularly in situations where soap and water are not readily available.
  2. Determining the appropriate situations for each product: Assess the circumstances, availability of resources, and level of hand contamination to decide whether handwashing with soap or using Purell is the most appropriate option. Understanding the specific advantages and limitations of each will help you make an informed decision.


In the realm of hand hygiene, both soap and Purell play essential roles. Soap’s mechanism of action effectively removes dirt, grime, and specific pathogens, while Purell provides quick sanitization when soap and water are not accessible. Soap is affordable, gentle on the skin, and suitable for all skin types. Purell offers convenience, portability, and broad germ-killing efficacy. By understanding their effectiveness, benefits, and drawbacks, individuals can make informed decisions about which option works better for their specific needs.

It is important to note that thorough handwashing with soap and water remains the gold standard for hand hygiene whenever possible. Soap’s ability to physically remove dirt and grime, along with its efficacy against specific pathogens, makes it an excellent choice for daily handwashing routines. It is easily accessible, affordable, and generally well-tolerated by all skin types.

In conclusion, both soap and Purell have their merits in maintaining hand hygiene. Soap excels in physically removing dirt, grime, and specific pathogens, while Purell offers convenience and quick sanitization benefits. The choice between the two depends on the availability of resources, the level of hand contamination, and individual circumstances. By understanding their effectiveness, benefits, and limitations, individuals can make informed decisions and incorporate both soap and Purell into their hand hygiene practices for optimal results. Remember, proper hand hygiene is essential in preventing the spread of germs and promoting overall health and well-being.

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