Have you heard that not all hand sanitizers are effective against viruses and microbes? It’s true. To be an effective hand sanitizer, it needs to contain 60-95% alcohol. Unfortunately, there are “alcohol-free” sanitizers out there making false claims, and ones too low in alcohol concentration.
Here’s when to use a hand sanitizer, how to find effective ones and our list of 5 Effective Hand Sanitizers to deactivate viruses.
When should you use a hand sanitizer?
Use hand sanitizer anytime you are out in public, unable to wash your hands, and come into contact with germs. It can be effective as well. For example:
If you have to enter a public place such as a grocery store or post office, you can use it before you enter and after in order to not spread germs from your own hands to the public, or vice versa.
If you are out in public and sneeze or cough into your hand, use sanitizer.
Carry hand sanitizer in your purse, car, or backpack. Wash your hands whenever possible throughout the day, and use hand sanitizer when it’s not possible.
If soap and water available, it’s best to wash your hands rather than use hand sanitizer.
According to the CDC, washing hands with soap and water is effective at reducing all types of microbes and germs on skin surfaces, while most had sanitizers will only kill some (1).
What’s more, if hands are greasy or dirty, the sanitizer may not penetrate the grime to kill microbes on the skin surface. Also, it’s more difficult to get under nails with hand sanitizers versus soap and a nail brush.
Hand sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol concentration denature the proteins in bacteria and viruses making them inactive. It cripples and kills the microbe, leaving it unable to replicate or spread.
However, some microbes are more easily inactivated by alcohol than others. For example, E. coli is readily killed by alcohol, but some microbes are not.
What about Coronavirus?
According to the CDC, 60-95% alcohol hand sanitizer is recommended against Covid-19 (1). To make sure it’s effective:
Purell’s hand sanitizers are approximately 70% ethyl alcohol and are effective against many microbes and viruses. They also include aloe vera and vitamin E, which can reduce the skin-drying effect of alcohol.
For storebought options, this is likely the best (along with other options at 70% alcohol). While the CDC and other resources recommend 60-95% alcohol solutions, some studies suggest 70% with more confidence as effective against COVID-19 (2).
At 63% ethyl alcohol, Germ-X is also a good option within the CDC’s recommended range. It boosts killing 99.9% of germs in just 15 seconds. Make sure to apply it to all skin surfaces and allow to dry on the skin.
If you can find Germ-X available, it does come in larger bulk quantities compared to many brands.
Known for gentle castille soaps and essential oils, the Dr. Bronner’s line includes this hand sanitizer with 62% ethyl alcohol. What’s more, it’s ingredients are USDA-certified organic, vegan, and not tested on animals.
Equate also offers a hand sanitizer within the 60-95% alcohol range. It comes in at 65% alcohol, which is higher than many brands. It also has also leaf juice to reduce skin dryness.
If you are like most people, you may be having a hard time finding hand sanitizer at your local store. Fortunately, you can make your own with simple ingredients, and it could be more effective than most brands. You only need isopropyl alcohol and aloe vera gel.
Mix very well and place in an empty soap or sanitizer dispenser. It is ~74% alcohol in concentration.
Of note, there are some recipes out there that claim vodka is effective as the base for a hand sanitizer. Unfortunately, vodka is only 40% alcohol, so it’s too low in concentration to be effective.
Hand sanitizer can be an effective option to reduce your risk of Coronavirus when you don’t have soap and water handy. However, it’s vital to make sure your sanitizer is at least 60% alcohol, and 70+% preferably. If you can’t find a hand sanitizer at your store, you can make your own. But, make sure you’re using a recipe that produces a concentrated solution.