ABC57 Investigates: Are the cleaning agents you use effective?
MISHAWAKA, Ind. --- As both hand sanitizers and soaps fly off the shelves, are all types and brands really getting the job done?
It has been recommended over the past two months to wash your hands.
But how can you be sure what you are washing your hands with is actually effective?
ABC57’s Brenda Koopsen worked with Dr. Vik Mehta to create an experiment, putting several brands of hand sanitizer to the test up against soap and water to find out.
While it was an official experiment, in a controlled environment and under the supervision of a doctor, the results are not guaranteed to be accurate. The same experiment could produce different results.
The experiment is meant to give you an idea of how well several brands of hand sanitizers clean your hands.
Germs are everywhere, especially on your hands. What can you do about them?
The “go to” solution is soap, water and 20 seconds of hand washing. However, you are not always near a sink and faucet, so lately the more popular solution has been hand sanitizer.
So popular in fact that you go to a store and see a shelf full of options—everything from popular brand names, such as Purell to store brands, such as Target’s Up & Up.
Local distilleries are jumping into the game too—Indiana Whiskey Company recently made hand sanitizer part of their business model.
ABC57 asked viewers which one they think is best:
“I would think that on a whim, soap and water.”
“Soap and water if you’re going to wash your hands properly.”
“Probably Purell because it’s been around the longest.”
Using a germ growing experiment under the close guidance of Dr. Vik Mehta from the Elkhart Clinic, we tested three hand sanitizers up against soap and water.
To start, each of four petri dishes was labeled to represent the individual samples.
Three hand sanitizers were put to the test—Purell at 70% alcohol, Murphy’s at 80% and Indiana Whiskey Company distillery made sanitizer at 70%—each of the three up against the control variable of soap and water.
“If you’re just using percentage, obviously more alcohol percentage is going to kill more bacteria or more viruses,” Dr. Vik Mehta said, Elkhart Clinic.
The type of alcohol plays a roll and could make a difference, according to Dr. Mehta.
In theory, just based off of percentage, Murphy’s at 80% should be the most successful at killing germs.
To help the germs to grow, we used a powder called Agar.
To get the best results, the Agar was poured into a pot, followed by some water and set to boil.
Then, the Agar mixture was poured into each of the four petri dishes, just barely coating the bottom of each dish.
The dishes set to cool for an hour.
To test the germs, ABC57’s Brenda Koopsen applied sanitizers and soap to her hands to get a sample, but you cannot test the effectiveness of killing germs with clean hands, so she went through three basic activities everyone does every day—scrolling through her phone, opening the car door and going into work.
With germ-filled hands, the test is ready to go.
Each sanitizer was applied to three different fingers, using moist, sterile cotton swabs to collect a sample of potential germs.
To track how the germs grow, ABC57’s Brenda Koopsen wiped the cotton swab in a zig-zag motion across the Agar filled petri dishes.
For the control variable, to see how hand sanitizer tests up against soap and water, the same process was repeated washing a four finger with soap and water and swabbing it just the same for the fourth petri dish.
It is important to note that because the Agar powder was used, it is guaranteed that germs will grow no matter what cleaning agent is used.
The cleaning agent with the best result will have the least amount of germs growing.
After allowing the four samples grow for a week, Dr. Vik Mehta weighed in on the results.
“You’ve got a lot of growth on all of them,” Dr. Mehta said.
So which one is the worst?
“That’s surprising to me,” Dr. Mehta said.
The experiment showed Purell as the least effective.
“The amount of growth on that is actually more than the soap and water,” Dr. Mehta said. “Then I would go soap and water probably being right after that, Murphy’s being the second best.”
The test showing the most effective actually being Indiana Whiskey Company’s distillery made hand sanitizer.
“These two surprise me a little bit because they’re so much better than the soap and water and the Purell,” Dr. Mehta said. “I just thought Purell would be equivalent to these two at least.”
The most anticipated answer—Purell—actually coming in last place.
“I think there’s just the name recognition and people like ‘Oh, that’s the one I know so I’m going to pick that one because that’s what I have at home,’” Dr. Mehta said.
Murphy’s was surprising too, having the highest alcohol percentage, but not quite beating out Purell.
“Liquid sprays tend to be better than the gel sprays,” Dr. Mehta said.
With the distillery made sanitizer having the most water-like consistency.
“So, that doesn’t surprise me,” Dr. Mehta said.
This experiment proving the most popular brand does not necessarily mean the best brand.
“But if you found that generic and it was, you know, the same percentage alcohol probably do the same amount of protection,” Dr. Mehta said.
“Alcohol containing hand sanitizer is by far in a way some of the most effective,” Charles Florance said, President and Founder of Indiana Whiskey Company.
That alcohol could potentially be a reason why Indiana Whiskey’s sanitizer took the lead in this experiment. All the same, founder Charles Florance said he is thrilled to hear how effective it turned out for the community.
“And I think that sanitizer just proves that we have some local know-how and we’re willing to help fight the cause together with the rest of the community,” Florance said.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway of all is that germs spread quickly.
“This stuff is everywhere,” Dr. Mehta said.” I think the take home is we need to make sure we’re washing our hands with something to prevent these things from spreading.”
Murphy’s also began making hand sanitizer during the pandemic to fill the need, telling ABC57 in a statement that they do use high quality ingredients which exceed FDA requirements.
All three companies encouraged folks to wash their hands.
These are the results of just one experiment. Others could produce different results.