If you’re given a choice between buying traditional soap or hand sanitizer, Orange County Health Department Community Health Services Supervisor Judy Butler says there’s only one way to go.

“Washing with soap and water is best, especially if your hands are visibly dirty,” Butler says. “Let’s say you’ve been out changing the oil in your car or working in the garden, hand sanitizers are not as effective when you clean your hands when they are visibly soiled.”

Hand sanitizers reduce the number of microbes on your hand, whereas washing with soap and water actually carries them away.

And, Butler says it’s especially important when dealing with viruses.

“Hand sanitizers are not effective against Norovirus,” Butler says. “So that would be if you were dealing with the situation where you were preparing food or potentially dealing with someone who’s been ill with gastrointestinal symptoms.”

Butler says the Orange County Health Department is very proud of the work the nurses do in the county’s school systems. She says they go to kindergarten classes to teach best practices and check on the children to make sure they’re following them.

Breaking it down further between traditional soap or the foaming variety, Butler says she wasn’t able to find any research that favors one over the other.

“The information that I found was pretty consistent that it’s the way you wash your hands more so than the actual soap product that you use that is so important,” Butler says.

She says that doesn’t mean that some soaps aren’t better than others, but that a lot of the data points to best practices.

And remember, to get a good clean, the rule of thumb is to scrub for 20 seconds after you’ve lathered. Humming happy birthday twice is a good measuring tool.