Background: Nurses have a high risk of developing hand eczema due to hand disinfection procedures. Objectives: To investigate the perception of nurses regarding the adverse effects of hand washing (HW) and alcoholic disinfection (ADI), and to obtain data on the prevalence of hand dermatitis and sensitization to alcohols and alcohol-based hand rubs (ABHRs). Methods: A self-administered questionnaire survey, carried out as a pilot study (PS), followed by a modified multicentre study (MC) in five hospitals. Patch tests to ethanol (80%), 1-propanol (60%), 2-propanol (70%) and ABHRs were performed in a subsample. Results: The majority (PS 60.1%; MC 69.5%) of nurses considered ADI to be more damaging than HW. Mostly, ADI and HW were suspected to have irritant effects (ADI 79.2%/52.1%; HW 65.5%/36.2%) compared with an allergenic potential (ADI 10.4%/5.8%; HW 7.8%/3.9%). The prevalence of hand dermatitis in the MC was 13.4% by self-diagnosis and 22.4% by symptom-based questions. In 50 tested individuals no sensitization and only two irritant reactions to alcohols and three single-positive reactions to ABHRs were observed, none of the latter related to alcohols. Conclusions: Although ADI is known to cause less skin irritation than HW, nurses perceive ADI as more damaging, resulting in: (i) a low compliance with ADI and (ii) a higher prevalence of hand dermatitis because the more deleterious HW is preferred. This may result in an increase in occupational disease and nosocomial infections. Educational programmes should promote ADI as a procedure with good efficiency and skin tolerability to reduce the prevalence of hand eczema in nurses and to enhance compliance with hand hygiene standards.