Hand sanitizers are a popular hygiene product commonly used to reduce the presence of bacteria and viruses on the hands. They are particularly useful in situations where soap and water are not readily available. Hand sanitizers typically come in gel, foam, or liquid forms and are often packaged in small, portable bottles, making them convenient for on-the-go use. The primary active ingredient in most hand sanitizers is alcohol, usually ethyl alcohol or isopropyl alcohol, at a concentration typically ranging from 60% to 95%. This high concentration of alcohol is effective at killing most bacteria and viruses by breaking down their proteins and dissolving their lipids, effectively neutralizing them. Some hand sanitizers also contain additional antiseptic or antimicrobial agents to enhance their germ-killing capabilities.

The top 8 Hand Sanitizers

Product name Image Rating Pros Cons Best Price More information

TOP PICK
Purell Advanced Refreshing Gel

Purell Advanced Hand Sanitizer Refreshing Gel 5 star review
  • Kills 99.9% of germs
  • Soft on hands
  • Free of harmful chemicals
  • Includes a display bowl
  • Reports of leakage
  • Possible discrepancies in the number of bottles received
Coming Soon!

BEST SPRAY
Everyone Hand Sanitizer Spray

Everyone Hand Sanitizer Spray
  • Free of harmful chemicals
  • Pleasant lavender scent
  • Does not leave hands dry or sticky
  • Inconsistent scent in repeat purchases
  • Poor packaging
Coming Soon!

BUDGET PICK
Germ-X Original Hand Sanitizer

Germ-X Original Hand Sanitizer
  • Moisturizing effect
  • Good packaging
  • Portable
  • Affordable
  • Formula may be too watery
  • Unsealed bottles reported
Coming Soon!

The Honest Company Sanitizing Alcohol Wipes

The Honest Company Sanitizing Alcohol Wipes
  • Made with plant-derived alcohol
  • Suitable for sensitive skin
  • Easy to use
  • Overpowering smell for some users
  • May not be as effective as traditional sanitizers
Coming Soon!

Hempz Triple Moisture Herbal Hand Sanitizer

Hempz Triple Moisture Herbal Hand Sanitizer
  • Dual function as a sanitizer and lotion
  • Non-sticky
  • Moisturizing
  • Unpleasant smell for some
  • Potential leakage from the bottle
Coming Soon!

Touchland Power Mist Hydrating Hand Sanitizer Spray

Touchland Power Mist Hydrating Hand Sanitizer Spray
  • Convenient
  • High spray count
  • Various scents
  • Reports of scents not smelling like their flavor
  • Over priced
  • Some users consider it gimmicky
Coming Soon!

Wet Ones Wipes Hand Sanitizing Wipes

Wet Ones Wipes Hand Sanitizing Wipes
  • Not as effective as liquid sanitizers in killing germs
  • Suitable for quick cleaning
  • Gentle on the skin
  • Not as effective as liquid sanitizers in killing germs
  • Confusing labeling provides only one packet of 20
Coming Soon!

Amazon Basic Care - Aloe Vera Hand Sanitizer

Amazon Basic Care - Aloe Vera Hand Sanitizer
  • Contains Aloe Vera
  • Reasonable price
  • 62% alcohol content
  • Alcohol content may be lower than some other brands
  • Some users report a strong "perfume-like" smell
Coming Soon!

Additional Reading

Apart from their germicidal properties, many hand sanitizers are formulated with moisturizers and emollients to prevent the drying of the skin, a common side effect of frequent alcohol use. Ingredients like aloe vera, glycerin, and essential oils are added to maintain skin hydration and health, making these sanitizers gentler on the skin compared to traditional, alcohol-only formulations.

Hand sanitizers are widely used in various settings, including healthcare facilities, schools, offices, and public spaces, where high levels of hand hygiene are required to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. They are particularly crucial during outbreaks of diseases like the flu or during the COVID-19 pandemic, where high standards of personal hygiene are vital for public health and safety.

While hand sanitizers are effective at killing many types of germs, they do not eliminate all types of bacteria and viruses, and they are less effective on visibly dirty or greasy hands. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend washing hands with soap and water as the most effective method for removing all types of germs and chemicals. However, when soap and water are not available, hand sanitizers provide a convenient and effective alternative for maintaining hand hygiene.

The History of Hand sanitizers

In the realm of personal hygiene and public health, few inventions have made an impact as profound as hand sanitizers. This simple yet revolutionary product has become a staple in households, hospitals, and public spaces worldwide, offering a convenient and effective means of combating germs and infectious diseases.

The story of hand sanitizers begins in the late 19th century. The concept of using alcohol-based solutions to kill germs was not new, as alcohol has been used for its antiseptic properties since ancient times. However, it wasn't until the late 1800s that the scientific community began to understand and appreciate the importance of hand hygiene, particularly in medical settings. This was largely due to the groundbreaking work of pioneers like Ignaz Semmelweis and Joseph Lister, who championed the cause of antiseptic procedures in hospitals.

Fast forward to the 1960s, a pivotal moment in the history of hand sanitizers. It was during this era that Lupe Hernandez, a nursing student in Bakersfield, California, recognized the need for an alcohol-based cleaning agent that could be used when soap and water were not readily available. Hernandez's insight led to the invention of hand sanitizers as we know them today – a gel containing alcohol, which could rapidly and effectively destroy bacteria and viruses on hands without the need for water.

The global pandemic in 2020 catapulted hand sanitizers into the limelight like never before. As the world grappled with an unprecedented health crisis, hand sanitizers became an essential tool in the fight against the spread of the virus. Demand soared, leading to shortages, and manufacturers across various industries pivoted to produce hand sanitizers.

Today, hand sanitizers continue to play a vital role in public health. They are a testament to the human capacity for innovation and adaptation in the face of health challenges. As we move forward, hand sanitizers will undoubtedly remain an integral part of our daily lives, symbolizing our ongoing commitment to cleanliness and health.

Ingredients of Hand sanitizers

Hand sanitizers, especially those recommended for their effectiveness against germs and viruses like COVID-19, typically contain a mix of active and inactive ingredients. The primary active ingredient is often an alcohol, but the formulation can vary. Here are common ingredients found in hand sanitizers:
  • Ethyl Alcohol (Ethanol): A primary active ingredient in many hand sanitizers, typically at concentrations of 60% to 95%. It's effective in killing bacteria and viruses on the skin.
  • Isopropyl Alcohol: Another type of alcohol used as an active ingredient, known for its antiseptic properties.
  • Benzalkonium Chloride: A non-alcohol-based active ingredient used in some sanitizers. It's an antimicrobial agent that provides germ-killing action.
  • Glycerin (Glycerol): A common inactive ingredient used as a moisturizer to prevent skin dryness from the alcohol.
  • Hydrogen Peroxide: Sometimes added in small amounts to help eliminate bacterial spores within the solution.
  • Essential Oils or Fragrances: Often included to provide a pleasant scent and additional skin benefits.
  • Aloe Vera: Used in some formulations for its soothing and moisturizing properties.
  • Water: Typically used as a base in the formulation.
  • Carbomer: A thickening agent used in gel-based sanitizers to give them their gel-like consistency.
  • Tocopheryl Acetate (Vitamin E): Sometimes added for its skin-conditioning properties.
  • Propylene Glycol: A humectant and softening agent that can be included in sanitizer formulations.

Who should use Hand sanitizers

Hand sanitizers are a convenient and effective hygiene tool for many people, especially in situations where soap and water are not readily available. Here's a summary of who should consider using hand sanitizers:
  • General Public: For the general population, hand sanitizers are an excellent way to maintain hand hygiene on the go, particularly when traveling, commuting, or after touching potentially contaminated surfaces.
  • Healthcare Workers: Medical professionals and healthcare workers use hand sanitizers frequently to prevent the spread of germs and to protect both themselves and their patients, especially when moving between different patient care tasks.
  • Individuals in Crowded Places: People in crowded environments like schools, offices, public transport, and event venues can use hand sanitizers to reduce the risk of transmitting or catching infections.
  • Food Handlers: Those involved in food preparation and service may use hand sanitizers as an additional measure for maintaining hand hygiene, though it's not a substitute for regular handwashing in these settings.
  • Individuals with Limited Access to Water: In areas where clean water is scarce, hand sanitizers provide a practical alternative for basic hand hygiene.
  • Travelers: For travelers, especially those visiting regions with questionable water quality or limited access to handwashing facilities, hand sanitizers are a practical hygiene solution.
  • Parents and Caregivers: Parents, especially of young children, and caregivers can use hand sanitizers to quickly disinfect hands when dealing with diaper changes, feeding, or when soap and water aren't immediately available.
  • Gym-goers and Athletes: People who frequent gyms or engage in sports activities can use hand sanitizers to clean their hands after using shared equipment or facilities.

What Hand sanitizers is NOT intended for

While hand sanitizers are generally safe and effective for most people, there are certain situations and individuals for whom the use of hand sanitizers may not be recommended or should be used with caution:
  • Children Under Six Years: Young children, especially those under six, should use hand sanitizers under adult supervision. There's a risk of accidental ingestion, which can be harmful.
  • People with Severe Allergies or Skin Conditions: Individuals with severe allergies to alcohol or other ingredients in hand sanitizers, or those with skin conditions like eczema, may experience irritation or worsening of their condition.
  • After Exposure to Harmful Chemicals: If hands are contaminated with harmful chemicals, hand sanitizers may not be effective. Thorough washing with soap and water is required in such cases.
  • When Hands are Visibly Dirty or Greasy: Hand sanitizers are less effective on visibly soiled or greasy hands. In these situations, handwashing with soap and water is more effective.
  • Individuals with Certain Health Conditions: People with certain health conditions that require sterile or near-sterile conditions should consult healthcare professionals for appropriate hand hygiene methods.
  • When Access to Soap and Water is Available: Preference should be given to washing hands with soap and water whenever possible, as it is more effective in removing certain types of germs and contaminants.
  • People with Sensitive Skin: Alcohol-based sanitizers can be drying, which might exacerbate issues for those with sensitive or dry skin.
  • Pregnant or Breastfeeding Women: While generally considered safe, pregnant or breastfeeding women might choose to be cautious and consult their healthcare provider, especially regarding frequent use.
  • After Handling Certain Foods: For handling or eating foods like seafood or peanuts, washing hands with soap and water is recommended to remove allergens effectively, which sanitizers may not do.

Pros and Cons of Hand sanitizers

Pros

  • Convenient: Easy to use and portable, making them ideal for on-the-go situations where soap and water are not available.
  • Quick Action: Kills or reduces the number of germs on hands quickly, usually in less than 30 seconds.
  • Reduces Microbial Load: Effective in reducing the number of pathogens on the skin, helping to prevent illness and infection transmission.
  • Supports Public Health: Regular use in community settings can reduce the spread of contagious illnesses, like the flu and colds.
  • Non-Water Dependent: Useful in situations with limited water availability or in emergency/disaster scenarios.
  • Additional Moisturizers: Many formulations include moisturizers to help mitigate skin dryness.
  • Long Shelf Life: Can be stored and used over a long period, making them reliable for emergency preparedness kits.
  • Easy for Public Settings: Easily deployed in public spaces like schools, offices, and retail locations to encourage hand hygiene.
  • Reduces Bacterial Counts: Particularly effective in reducing bacterial loads on hands, which is important in healthcare settings.
  • Accessibility: Widely available in various formats (gel, foam, spray) for diverse needs and preferences.

Cons

  • Limited Effectiveness on Dirty Hands: Not very effective on visibly dirty or greasy hands.
  • Alcohol Content: Can be drying to the skin, leading to irritation or cracking, especially with frequent use.
  • Not Effective Against All Germs: May not kill certain types of harmful bacteria and viruses, such as norovirus and Clostridium difficile.
  • Risk of Ingestion in Children: Can be poisonous if ingested, particularly a concern with young children.
  • Can Develop Resistance: Overuse might contribute to antibiotic resistance, though this is more of a theoretical concern.
  • Allergic Reactions: Some people may be allergic to ingredients in hand sanitizers, like fragrances or preservatives.
  • Flammability: High alcohol content makes them flammable, requiring careful storage away from heat or flame.
  • False Sense of Security: Might lead to neglect of proper handwashing techniques, which are generally more effective.
  • Environmental Concerns: The production, packaging, and disposal of hand sanitizers contribute to environmental issues.
  • Chemical Exposure: Prolonged exposure to certain chemicals in hand sanitizers might pose health risks.

Studies regarding the benefits of Hand sanitizers

1. Title: Effectiveness of hand sanitizers in the prevention of COVID-19 and related public health concerns

Summary: This study, published in the Journal of Hospital Medicine, found that alcohol-based hand sanitizers were effective in reducing the spread of viruses in a hospital setting. However, it also noted that handwashing with soap and water was still the preferred method for visibly soiled hands.

2. Title: The Effectiveness of Hand Hygiene Interventions to Reduce Influenza Virus Transmission in the Community: A Systematic Review**

Summary: This review, published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases, analyzed multiple studies on hand hygiene interventions, including hand sanitizers. It concluded that hand sanitizers can be effective in reducing influenza transmission, especially in situations where handwashing is not readily available.

3. Title: A Controlled, Crossover Study of a Persistent Antiseptic to Reduce Hospital-Acquired Infection

Summary: This meta-analysis, published in Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology, evaluated the impact of hand sanitizers on hospital-acquired infections. It found that hand sanitizers could modestly reduce the risk of some infections but emphasized the importance of handwashing as the primary strategy.

4. Title: Comparative Efficacy of Alcohol-Based Hand Sanitizer and Handwashing Against Clinically Relevant Bacterial Species on Hands of Healthy Adults**

Summary: This study, published in Clinical Infectious Diseases, compared the effectiveness of hand sanitizer and handwashing against various bacteria on healthy adults' hands. It found that both methods were effective, but handwashing was superior against certain bacteria, like Clostridium difficile spores.

5. Title: The impact of alcohol-based hand sanitizer and hand washing with soap and water on bacterial skin microbiota composition

Summary: This study,  investigated the impact of hand sanitizer use on the skin microbiome. It found that frequent use could disrupt the natural balance of microbes on the skin, potentially impacting skin health. However, the long-term consequences of this disruption remain unclear.

Frequently Asked Questions about Hand sanitizers

What is hand sanitizer and how does it work?

Hand sanitizer is a liquid, gel, or foam formulation designed to reduce the number of pathogens (germs) on the hands. It typically contains alcohol (ethanol or isopropanol) as the active ingredient, which denatures the proteins of bacteria and viruses, effectively killing them. Non-alcohol-based hand sanitizers contain disinfectants like benzalkonium chloride, which also kill germs but are less effective against certain viruses.

Is hand sanitizer effective against all types of germs?

Hand sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol content are effective against most bacteria, fungi, and many viruses, including the flu virus and the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2). However, they are not effective against all types of germs. For instance, hand sanitizers are less effective against norovirus and certain types of bacterial spores, such as Clostridium difficile. They also do not remove harmful chemicals or physical dirt.

How should I use hand sanitizer properly?

To use hand sanitizer effectively, follow these steps:

  1. Apply enough product to cover all surfaces of your hands.
  2. Rub your hands together, covering all surfaces, including between your fingers and under your nails.
  3. Continue rubbing until your hands are dry, which should take around 20 seconds. Ensure you use enough product and rub thoroughly for maximum effectiveness.

Can hand sanitizer replace hand washing?

Hand sanitizer can be a convenient alternative to hand washing when soap and water are not available, but it should not completely replace hand washing. Washing hands with soap and water is more effective at removing dirt, grease, and certain germs, including some types of bacteria and viruses. Hand washing is especially important after using the restroom, handling food, or when hands are visibly dirty.

Are there any side effects of using hand sanitizer?

Most people can use hand sanitizer without issues, but potential side effects include:

  • Dry Skin: Frequent use can strip the skin of its natural oils, leading to dryness and irritation.
  • Allergic Reactions: Some people may react to certain ingredients in hand sanitizers, such as fragrances or preservatives.
  • Alcohol Poisoning: Ingesting hand sanitizer can cause alcohol poisoning, especially in children. Always supervise young children when using hand sanitizer.

What is the difference between alcohol-based and non-alcohol-based hand sanitizers?

  • Alcohol-Based Sanitizers: Contain ethanol or isopropanol as the active ingredient. They are effective against a wide range of pathogens, including many viruses and bacteria, when used in concentrations of 60% or higher.
  • Non-Alcohol-Based Sanitizers: Use disinfectants like benzalkonium chloride. They can be less effective against certain viruses and bacteria but may be gentler on the skin. They are often used in settings where alcohol-based sanitizers are not suitable, such as in schools or on sensitive skin.

How should hand sanitizer be stored?

Hand sanitizer should be stored in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight and heat sources, as high temperatures can degrade the alcohol content and reduce its effectiveness. Ensure the container is tightly closed to prevent evaporation. Keep hand sanitizer out of reach of children to prevent accidental ingestion.

Can hand sanitizer expire?

Yes, hand sanitizer can expire. The alcohol content can evaporate over time, making it less effective. Most hand sanitizers have a shelf life of about 2-3 years. Check the expiration date on the packaging and replace it if it has expired.

Can frequent use of hand sanitizer lead to antibiotic resistance?

Alcohol-based hand sanitizers do not contribute to antibiotic resistance. They kill germs through a mechanism that does not involve antibiotics. However, overuse of non-alcohol-based sanitizers that contain triclosan or other antimicrobial agents may contribute to antibiotic resistance. It is important to use hand sanitizers responsibly and in conjunction with proper hand washing practices.