No hot water? No problem when trying to kill germs

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Nicholas Wagner, ’09 alum, puts on hand sanitizer outside his house in Urbana on Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2009.

By Michael Norman

Mothers think they know best when they tell kids to wash their hands with hot water instead of cold water. But many of the bathrooms in older buildings across campus fail to provide water that gets warm, said Carl Wegel, director of maintenance for Facilities and Services.

In the wake of the H1N1 outbreak and an extended flu season, the lack of hot water in places such as the Architecture Building and Gregory Hall would keep mothers up all night worrying. But Dr. David Lawrance, medical director at McKinley Health Center, said he does not believe the lack of hot water is a problem.

“Using hot water when washing your hands makes little difference compared to cold water. The key when washing hands is not the temperature of the water but that you are using the combination of soap and water to kill germs,” Lawrance said.

When many older buildings were constructed, they were not required to have water heaters, Wegel said.

“I don’t know when the building code changed to require water heaters,” Wegel said. “But buildings that were built under the old code did not require water heaters.”

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    Wegel said representatives from Facilities and Services met with a doctor from McKinley last year to discuss whether the lack of hot water in buildings would be a health issue.

    “It is not a health issue because when talking to doctors, they have stated that hot water does not kill more germs than cold water,” Wegel said. “Personally, I don’t waste the time waiting for the water to heat up anyways.”

    While Lawrance said washing hands with soap and water is the most effective method for killing germs, the University has placed hand sanitizers, such as Purell, in buildings around campus.

    “Purell is a convenient, effective substitute for soap and water,” Lawrance said. “The combination of washing with soap and water and using hand sanitizers is a good way to kill germs that would reside on your hands.”

    Nicholas Wagner, 2009 graduate, said he is a frequent user of hand sanitizers such as Purell.

    “I use hand sanitizers whenever I am in a public place or use any type of public transportation. After touching railings, handles and other things in public, you come in contact with a lot of germs,” Wagner said.

    Wagner said he usually carries a bottle of hand sanitizer around with him so he can clean his hands after coming in contact with germs.

    “I think washing your hands with soap and water is important, but hand sanitizers are a lot more convenient and are easy to access,” Wagner said.

    While some are big supporters of hand sanitizers, Steven Doran, graduate student, said he feels obsessing over the use of hand sanitizers to kill germs is a bit excessive.

    “I think people are overreacting a little bit when it comes to the swine flu. If you wash your hands with soap and water, that should be enough to kill germs so you don’t have to use hand sanitizer obsessively,” Doran said.