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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Summer Camp, Hand Hygiene and Safe Sanitizers for the Hands

Proving once again that social media apps such as Twitter, Facebook and other 'channels' can create a well-spring of communication, we clap our hands in honor of UK-based Juliet Robertson, the founder of Creative Star Learning Co., who turned to us for info and suggestions about best  hand hygiene strategies and products than can be used by pre-schoolers attending outdoor learning centers and summer day camps where hand washing facilities are not easily accessible or available.

Juliet can be found on Twitter at this location

To: Juliet (and your 18,000 followers on Twitter)

1. Getting 'down and dirty' in the outdoors is, as you eloquently advocate on your website, a good thing for little tikes. It introduces them to the beauty of Mother Nature.

2. A little dirt on the hands is actually a good thing, all things being equal. Not all bacteria is bad, and presuming the environment in which the tikes are exploring isn't adjacent to the Gulf of Mexico, or other areas that have been invaded by pollutants or otherwise infested by pathogens that have been carried by man (or woman),  the concerns about what tikes are touching need to be put into proper perspective.

3. Obviously, one needs to be careful about touching certain types of plants/vegetation (poison ivy, poison oak, etc. etc.), but the good news is that certain non-alcohol hand sanitizer products that use benzalkonium chloride (a/k/a/ "BAC") as the active ingredient can prove to be an ideal treatment. In fact, this is the same ingredient found in the better poison ivy/poison oak ointments and lotions. Note: Using alcohol hand sanitizers to wash off oil from poison ivy does not work.

4. For the readers that have been misled into thinking that alcohol gels "clean" the hands, the responsible manufacturers of those toxic and flammable products will advise "wash hands before applying". This is because alcohol does not penetrate dirt, and therefore, has almost zero usefulness on skin that might be soiled with just about anything.

To answer your question i.e. particular products when there's no sink and faucet; many of the alcohol-free hand sanitizers that use BAC are water-based. Many are dispensed in foam format, others in a "spray" format. Regardless, its the water that "cleans" the dirt (or other particles) from the skin, and the antibacterial is what eradicates the bad bacteria. Note: BAC is the common ingredient in many first aid antiseptic products. It won't sting and, unlike alcohol gel, it won't present a risk of infection.

So, there's a 3-in-1 solution that solves the problem that alcohol hand sanitizer gels simply cannot touch. Pun intended.

That said, and as noted in the below white paper that you might find interesting, alcohol hand sanitizers in a camp/outdoor setting are useful to the extent that they can be used to help start the camp fire if you can't locate dry wood or twigs. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are also useful for the counselors that have had a rough day; pour the alcohol gel into a cup, mix in two or three tablespoons of salt, stir gently for a few a minutes and then pour the liquid into your canteen. Bingo! You've just brewed yourself a libation!

Recommended safe, alcohol-free hand sanitizer products? Most of the BAC-based alcohol-free sanitizers are similar in formula. So, educated shoppers should be comparing not only prices, but the ingredients. We like the ones that don't have a fragrance, and don't use any dye or "color" additives; fragrances and dyes can pose allergy-related issues that nobody needs to encounter in the middle of the woods.

Responsible note: too much of anything is not a good idea, regardless of what you hear or read. That includes water! BAC-based products should not be poured into a humidifier, and should not be used to rinse the eyes. Beyond that, most of the products maintain concentration levels that are universally-accepted as being safe for the purposes of apply-on-hands antiseptic or antibacterial.

For carry size bottles, we're told that "Soapopular" is available in the UK and can be purchased online via the company's UK-based distributor. That product is also widely-available in the US and Canada, and US customers can buy online at

Another, competitively priced 'brand' that is fragrance-free and dye free is Hy5. For camp operators, this product line includes portable dispensing stands that are low-cost, extremely durable and designed for rugged environments.

If not convenient to be putting a 2 oz or 3 oz bottle in a knapsack or pouch, non-alcohol hand wipes (again, using a quaternary ammonium compound such as BAC) are fine for kids. In fact, most baby wipes are non-alcohol (or they should be!)

For those that don't subscribe to the idea of using any type of hand sanitizers, even an alcohol-free product (which is fine, our perspective is that washing with a good soap and water is always the best approach), we'd caution against washing the hands in a local stream or pond that has not been deemed "safe drinking water".

No need to list all of the potential bad bacteria that can be easily encountered in water that we're not familiar with. Along the same lines, 'wiping the hands" with large leaves that might appear to be a natural paper towel is not necessarily a good idea either.

Hand Hygiene Lessons: Sanitizers for Schools and Summer Camps

1 comment:

Juliet Robertson said...

A BIG THANK YOU for writing this blog.

At the moment the Scottish Government are recommending to pre-school settings that they must use running water for hand washing outside prior to eating food. It's interesting that you are suggesting that foam sanitisers with their water content may be suitable.

Best wishes