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How Effective Is Hand Sanitizer?

Updated on August 8, 2017

Hand sanitizer is convenient and ubiquitous around areas like hospitals and grocery stores, but is it really as effective as it says? While the National Institute of Health claims that hand sanitizers are not a replacement for regular hand washing, hand sanitizer is nonetheless a quality supplement to soap and water, killing a variety of dangerous germs and inhibiting the spread of disease.

The Band of Clean is a silicone wristband with a hand-sanitizer reservoir
The Band of Clean is a silicone wristband with a hand-sanitizer reservoir | Source

Ingredients in Hand Sanitizer

Hand sanitizers all have a variety of ingredients, but most are based around a core composition of alcohol. Denatured alcohol is extremely effective at killing germs, and it evaporates quickly and cleanly without requiring a towel. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers might contain other ingredients as well, such as a pleasant perfume or a moisturizing agent.

Non-alcoholic hand sanitizers contain an ingredient called triclosan. According to the University of Michigan, these hand sanitizers are not proven to be effective against germs, and they might actually cause endocrine problems or immune system harm after long term use (Barnett, 2013). The FDA has yet to make a conclusive ruling on the safety of non-alcohol hand sanitizers, but in the meantime consumers should stick with alcohol-based sanitizers like Purell.

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Hand Sanitizer Chemical Effectiveness

Any compound with at least 60% alcohol is effective at killing the majority of bacterial pathogens, and many can kill viruses such as influenza (Franklin, 2006). Hand sanitizer is not effective against some extremely hardy contaminants, but it is the second most effective method of sanitizing one’s hands after washing with soap and water.

The correct procedure for utilizing hand sanitizer
The correct procedure for utilizing hand sanitizer

Appropriate Uses of Hand Sanitizer

Hand sanitizer is not meant to replace regular hand washing, and it loses effectiveness on hands that are visibly dirty or covered in a thick layer of contamination. Used in between hand washings, hand sanitizer can prevent the transmission of germs from contaminated surfaces to the face/mouth of an individual.

In order to be effective, hand sanitizer must be used regularly. Hand sanitizer stations have a demonstrated effectiveness in hospital and school settings, but there are also other innovative products designed to make hand sanitizers more mobile and discreet.

The Band of Clean

The Armor Group, a medical technology firm in New York City, develops bracelets that contain reservoirs for hand sanitizer. According to the Armor Group, these bracelets help users carry hand sanitizer with them during daily activities, ensuring that they will clean their hands between sporting events, touching dirty surfaces, or handling pets.

Academic Studies of Hand Sanitizer

According to a study by the National Institute of Health, the two main factors determining the effectiveness of hand sanitizers were the quantity of ethanol alcohol and the amount of hand sanitizer used. The NIH recommended that hand sanitizers contain 60% or more alcohol in order to be effective, and that users utilize at least 2 mL of hand sanitizer at a time in order to ensure maximum surface coverage. Foam-based hand sanitizers were as effective as their liquid counterparts, but only if they used 2.0 mL or more of total volume.

Works Cited

Barnett, B. (2013, October 16). Is Hand Sanitizer Toxic? CNN Health.

Franklin, D. (2006, March 21). Hand Sanitizers, Good or Bad? The New York Times.

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