With cold and flu season just around the corner, parents will do just about anything to keep their kids from getting sick. We all know washing our hands helps keep infections from spreading, but is it any better than using hand sanitizer?

Groundbreaking Study

A new study out of Spain is shedding light on the dirty little secret of hand washing. Researchers studied 911 children ages three and under over an eight-month period at 24 different day care centers. The children were split into three separate groups: one group washed their hands with soap and water while another group used hand sanitizer. These two groups also received special instructions about hygiene.

Pixabay / _Alicja_

The control group consisted of the remaining children and didn’t receive special instructions, but simply followed their normal hand washing routines. Before the study began, parents and their kids were required to attend hygiene classes. The first two groups also went to classes on fevers and respiratory infections.

Increased Illness

The results were astounding. Researchers noted that kids who used only hand sanitizer were 23% less likely to miss school due to respiratory infections. The hand washing group was also 31% more likely to be prescribed antibiotics than the group who only used hand sanitizer.

Flickr / Maks Manuals

Over the course of the study the 911 kids missed an astounding 5,186 days of school due to respiratory infections. The third group which followed their normal hand washing routine ended up missing the most days of school.

Proper Technique

While using hand sanitizer may be more effective at stopping the spread of germs, what should you do if you don’t have any with you? Researchers point out that it’s not just washing your hands, but how you do it that is most important.

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, you should wash your hands for at least 20 seconds. You should also wash your hands before you eat and after you cough, sneeze or blow your nose. When it comes to hand sanitizer, the CDC recommends rubbing it all over your hands and fingers until they are dry.