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Hand sanitizer vs. soap and water: These photos show the big difference

(Image credit: hxdbzxy / Shutterstock)

There's a good chance you've stocked up on hand sanitizer to keep yourself clean in light of the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak. And that's great! But using Purell is no substitute for thoroughly and regularly washing your hands, as a new series of photos have revealed.

Actress Kristen Bell recently shared a set of black light comparison photos that show how clean your hands get at various stages of washing. As the photos show, you'll need to wash with soap for 30 seconds to fully rid your hands of dirt. 

The CDC recommends washing your hands for at least 20 seconds, but it never hurts to be extra cautious. 

My mom sent me the hand washing black light comparison. 30 SECONDS WITH SOAP YALL!!! kristen bell

A photo posted by @kristenanniebell on Mar 3, 2020 at 11:28am PST

The folks at Business Insider followed up on this finding with a UV light test of their own, showing the differences between a hand cleaned with just hand sanitizer versus one that was washed for 30 seconds with soap. The differences between the two images are pretty notable -- the hand cleaned with sanitizer still showed many visible germs, while the one washed with soap was mostly spotless.

As Business Insider points out, hand sanitizer neutralized but does not kill bacteria, meaning that it's not a complete substitute for a thorough hand wash with soap. Hand sanitizers still kill lots of germs, and are worth having at your desk to keep your hands sterilized from the everyday objects you'll come into contact with at work and at home.

So, as you load up on bottles of Purell (or whatever hand sanitizers you can still find), be sure to also make sure you have plenty of regular hand soap available. And don't forget to disinfect your surfaces, cover your coughs and sneezes with tissues and limit your time in social spaces to keep yourself safe.