Single treatment with ethanol hand rub is ineffective against human rhinovirus--hand washing with soap and water removes the virus efficiently

J Med Virol. 2012 Mar;84(3):543-7. doi: 10.1002/jmv.23222.


Ethanol-containing hand rubs are used frequently as a substitute for hand washing with water and soap. However, not all viruses are inactivated by a short term rubbing with alcohol. The capacity of a single round of instructed and controlled hand cleaning with water and soap or ethanol-containing hand rub, respectively, was tested for removal of human rhinovirus administered onto the skin of healthy volunteers on the back of the hands. Hand washing with soap and water appeared to be much more efficient for removing rhinoviruses from skin than rubbing hands with an ethanol-containing disinfectant. After washing with soap and water the virus was detected in 3/9 (33.3%) test persons from the left hand and 1/9 (11.1%) cases from the right hand, whereas the virus was detected invariably by real-time RT-PCR from both hands after cleaning with alcohol hand rub (P-value <0.01). Both substances evaluated clinically were also tested in vitro for virucidal efficacy against Human rhinovirus2 (HRV2) using a standardized assay. Both tested substances were poor within the contact time used in the hand-cleaning test. In conclusion, thorough and conventional hand washing with water and soap can clean efficiently hands contaminated with the virus responsible for an extensive share of common cold episodes.

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Infective Agents, Local / pharmacology*
  • Disinfectants / pharmacology*
  • Ethanol / pharmacology*
  • Hand Disinfection / methods*
  • Humans
  • RNA, Viral
  • Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Rhinovirus / drug effects*
  • Rhinovirus / genetics
  • Rhinovirus / isolation & purification
  • Skin Care / methods
  • Soaps / pharmacology*
  • Virus Inactivation / drug effects


  • Anti-Infective Agents, Local
  • Disinfectants
  • RNA, Viral
  • Soaps
  • Ethanol