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Do hand sanitizers help protect against colds and flu?

"Yes," says Dr. Jose Munoz, the director of pediatric infectious diseases at Maria Fareri Children's Hospital in Valhalla, New York. But, he cautions, sanitizers and wipes shouldn't replace soap and water, especially if hands are visibly soiled. "You need to physically remove dirt to remove the germs," he explains.

For the best results, Dr. Munoz has these tips:

Use sanitizer sparingly. Many products contain alcohol or other ingredients that shouldn't go into little mouths. So teach your kids to use only a dime-sized dollop (adults should apply sanitizer to toddlers' and babies' hands). "Once the alcohol has evaporated, there's no risk of poisoning," he says.

Apply it thoroughly. Hand sanitizer evaporates quickly and doesn't spread as effectively as, say, a lotion might. So be sure to rub sanitizer all over your hands for at least 15 seconds.

Don't wipe it off. Hand sanitizer needs to air-dry. "The drying process is actually part of what kills germs," says Dr. Munoz. "As the alcohol evaporates, it essentially dehydrates them."