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Once and for all, is it better to wash your hands with bar soap, gel soap or foaming soap?

Spring colds and stomach bugs are real. Use these helpful hand-washing tips to keep you and your family protected from germs this season.

Once and for all, is it better to wash your hands with bar soap, gel soap or foaming soap?

Recently, there were reports of a particularly virulent strain of norovirus (aka a particularly nasty stomach bug) spreading in the Northeast that was resistant to hand sanitizer. The only way to remove the norovirus germs off your hands? Good old fashioned soap and water. Now, I've always been a dedicated hand washer. And living in New York City through the entire COVID-19 pandemic made me even more diligent. But I suddenly wondered, Was I doing it right? Was I using the right cleanser? My initial instinct was to Google the answer, but then I had a vision of all the gross stuff I might find that would make me spiral even further. So, I talked to a few doctors instead. Keep reading for their expert hand-washing advice.

🧼 Choose the soap you'll actually use

It's true that soaps vary in their formulations. Some are designed to be moisturizing while others have antimicrobial properties. That said, most doctors agree: It's the act of thorough hand-washing with soap and water that removes the dirt and germs. So when deciding between bar soap, gel soap or hand soap, the decision is yours. "From my perspective, the best form of soap is the one you will use," Dr. Zion Ko Lamm, a board-certified internal medicine physician says.

If you're looking for a fragrance-free hand soap that's suitable for sensitive skin, this one gets high marks. It's made with vegetable-derived glycerin and essential oils to nourish and moisturize your hands after each wash. One shopper who's a fan commented, "It’s the only soap that doesn’t dry my hands out. I can wash my hands 10 times per day and they don’t dry out with this soap! Love it."

$12 at Amazon

💦 Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds

A quick splash of water on your fingertips? No good. Proper hand-washing means lathering soap and water on your entire hand — don't forget in between your fingers and underneath your nails! — for at least 20 seconds. "A good rule of thumb is to sing Happy Birthday all the way through as you scrub. That way you will get maximum germ-killing potential from the soap," says Dr. Linda Yancey, MD, director of infection prevention at the Memorial Hermann Health System in Houston, TX.


If you're looking to reduce waste, then bar soap is a great option because there's no plastic bottle to be recycled or — gasp! — landfilled. Shoppers on Amazon rave about the clean, fresh (and gender-neutral!) scent of this bar by Mrs. Meyers. One customer gushed, "It's absolutely the perfect bar of soap. Smells like rain and very moisturizing. Leaves skin amazing. I can't say enough. My favorite soap." We think they like it!

$11 at Amazon

🌡️ Water temperature doesn't matter

Ready to have your mind blown? When it comes to handwashing, hot water isn't any better than cold. "This is a common misconception," says Dr. Sam Hilton, DO, who specializes in preventive medicine and public health. "Research indicates that water temperature does not significantly impact the effectiveness of germ removal in handwashing. What is more important is the duration and technique."

Frequent handwashing to keep germs at bay means your family is likely to go through soap pretty quickly. Rather than buying one bottle at a time, consider a multi-pack like this Dove set that's less than $20. With more than 5,900 ratings, it's popular purchase among Amazon shoppers who say it "smells great" and is "very moisturizing!"

$28 at Amazon

🖐️ Make handwashing a habit

If you're already trained to wash your hands after you use the bathroom, great! But don't stop there. "Key moments for handwashing include before eating and following any action where hands come into contact with bodily fluids, such as after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing," says Dr. Ko Lamm. She adds that people should be even more proactive during germy seasons, taking care to wash their hands after touching surfaces in public spaces, like door handles, electronic cashier screens and shopping carts.

Beauty products with goat's milk are often a popular pick for people with dry or sensitive skin. Several shoppers on Amazon with these concerns say this Aussie export works well. "I bought this soap because my skin gets so dried-out. I was told to use goat milk soap," one person wrote in their review. "I really like this soap. My skin is still on the dry side, but it doesn't get as dry as it did with regular soap. The bars last a long time. The scent is very mild, which I really like. I would recommend this to those who have dry skin or allergies to other soaps."

$27 at Amazon

🧴 Don't forget to moisturize

Worried that such frequent washing will leave your hands rough and dry? It's a valid concern, Dr. Ko Lamm confirms. "Frequent hand-washing, though vital for hygiene, can strip the skin of natural oils, leading to dryness," she says. But before you even think about skipping a much-needed hand cleansing session, the good doctor suggests choosing soaps that are made with moisturizing agents like glycerin, hyaluronic acid, aloe vera and natural butters like shea and cocoa. And just for good measure, introduce these flight-attendant-recommended products into your routine. Dr. Ko Lamm recommends a nourishing hand cream after each wash to further mitigate dryness.

Don't miss your chance to grab this popular hand cream while it's on sale for more than 30% off. At less than $10, you can afford to buy a few to keep in convenient places like your purse, near the bathroom sink and at your desk.

$9 at Amazon
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$9 at CVS Pharmacy

The reviews quoted above reflect the most recent versions at the time of publication.