Hand Sanitizers In Schools
With the school year quickly approaching and many returning for the first time since COVID-19 lockdown, parents and educators alike are looking to provide a safe environment for students and staff to return. In order to reduce the risk of rampant spreading of the SARS-COV-2 virus, schools will have to adopt new safety practices.

With social distancing guidelines next to impossible to adhere to for most educational institutions, they will need to step up other mitigation steps like the use of masks and hand sanitizer. Hand sanitizer has proven benefits and has become an essential tool in the fight against COVID-19. In order to ensure that they’re providing as safe of a learning environment as possible, schools will need to require hand sanitizer use on the playground as well as in the cafeteria, gym, reception, office areas, and classrooms.

This isn’t simply practicing good hygiene or trying to “look good” to visitors and parents, there’s some definitive science behind the use of hand sanitizer in the battle against viruses. Keep reading to find out more.

What is Hand Sanitizer?

Hand sanitizers contain 60%–95% ethanol or isopropyl alcohol and come in either a liquid, foam, or gel solution. Educators will want to keep in mind that while many options are mixed with scents that can be appealing to younger students, there are several reports of children ingesting these type of hand sanitizers. Therefore, schools will want to ensure that children are properly instructed on the use and the dangers of ingesting the product.

They’ll also want products that are at least 60% and no more than 95% alcohol concentration. Most products contain between 60% and 80% alcohol and studies have found that lower or higher concentrations are less effective. In addition to ethanol, isopropanol or n-Propanol alcohol, hand sanitizers also contain the following:
  • Antiseptics such as chlorhexidine and quaternary ammonium derivatives
  • Sporicides such as hydrogen peroxides (these help eliminate bacterial spores that may be present in the ingredients themselves)
  • Emollients, as well as gelling agents, in order to reduce skin irritation and dryness.
  • Small amounts of sterile or distilled water
  • And some contain fragrances, colorants , or foaming agents. .
  • Research on Hand Sanitizer in School

In October 2000, several medical professionals published a study where 6000 students across 16 schools used hand sanitizer whenever entering and leaving a classroom. Compared with several control schools where hand sanitizer was not used, absenteeism due to infections was reduced by 19.8%.

Children Aren’t the Best at Washing Their Hands

Getting children to properly wash their hands adequately between classes, at recess or before/after lunch times is quite difficult. Therefore, schools that offer cleaning stations with at least 70% alcohol hand sanitizer provide an additional safety measure to ensure that their students and staff are less likely to spread the novel coronavirus. In fact, a 2007 focus group found that participants preferred using hand sanitizer over hand washing and of course this was long before the current pandemic.

Furthermore, in 2009 the World Health Organization (WHO) released their Guidelines on Hand Hygiene in Health Care and they specifically recommended the use of hand sanitizer over traditional soap and water. However, the type of hand sanitizer and the delivery method are important as well.

The Impact of Viruses on School Attendance

At the elementary school level, illness caused by pathogens is a major contributor for students missing school. Back in 1990, the Carnegie Foundation for Education revealed that 83% of teachers stated that these types of illnesses were the biggest problem they faced within their schools.

Liquid or Gel Hand Sanitizer?

A study in 2002 found that the true effectiveness of hand sanitizer was greatly dependent on the method of delivery. They found that gels appeared to be less effective than liquid hand sanitizer. For schools using dispensers, liquid hand sanitizer is more effective for cleanliness than gel as it creates less mess and build up that can be a byproduct of not being used properly. Which of course is a high probability at schools with younger students.

Best Practices for Hand Sanitizer

To seriously instill good hand washing skills in children, complex training and reinforcing procedures are necessary

While complex training and reinforcing procedures are necessary in order to instill good hand washing skills in children, even with an effective hand washing program in place it can be quite difficult to get them to maintain these behaviors over time. Having hand sanitizer stations strategically placed throughout the school and available to all can have a dramatic impact on cleanliness.

This gives students and staff an opportunity to access to sanitization between classes and other times throughout the day where the limited toilet facilities cannot handle the entire school en masse attempting to fulfill the need for clean hands. However, the use of alcohol based hand sanitizer throughout the school does not negate the need for basic hand washing.

The CDC advises on their website that if your hands are visibly dirty or greasy you should not use hand sanitizer. This goes for kids coming in from recess and otherwise having the dirty hands children are known for. In those cases, they should wash their hands with soap and water instead.

Other times that hand sanitizer should be used are:
  • Cafeteria workers before, during, and after preparing food
  • All students and staff before eating food
  • School nurse before and after treating a cut or wound
  • After using the restroom
  • After blowing your nose
  • Any time you cough or sneeze
  • After touching any class pets or other animals, their food or treats, cages, and any waste
  • Custodial staff after touching garbage
With the benefits of hand sanitizer over traditional soap and water, the fact that children typically don’t wash their hands well to begin with, and the troubling logistics of maintaining a safe environment for everyone inside the school, it’s simply a smart move for schools to implement heavy usage of hand sanitizer.