Buyer’s Guide: Hand Sanitizer Effectiveness

The coronavirus pandemic has triggered a huge stir in the medical industry with people wanting to understand hand sanitizer effectiveness. Consequentially, finding hand sanitizers in the markets has become an uphill task. While the situation raises concern, there’s no need to hit the panic button. A hand sanitizer that meets the required alcohol volume has the uncanny ability to deal with most of the germs, including the novel coronavirus.

Hand sanitizer refers to an alcohol-based gel or liquid that’s typically used to diminish infectious agents on your hands. As a more effective option in killing microorganisms compared to generic soap and water, it’s more popular in healthcare settings.

What are the Essential Ingredients in Hand Sanitizer?

According to the CDC, laboratory data shows that 70% isopropanol and 60% ethanol are the essential ingredients for hand sanitizer effectiveness. They inactivate the viruses that exhibit similar physical properties as coronavirus.

What is the Recommended use of Hand Sanitizer?

CDC advocates for alcohol-based hand sanitizers that have more than 70% isopropanol or 60 percent ethanol or ethyl alcohol as the better option for hand hygiene in healthcare facilities. This stems from increased access to hand sanitizers. Health care workers that incorporate alcohol-based sanitizers as part and parcel of their hand hygiene routine can inform patients that they’re abiding by the CDC guidelines.

The Most Effective Way to Use Hand Sanitizer

Apply hand sanitizer to your hands, do a quick rub-on and voila, 99% of germs killed, right? Wrong! When washing your hands with soap and water isn’t an option, nothing beats using a hand sanitizer to scrub off the bacteria and germs.  But, the following ideal application procedures are essential to ensure hand sanitizers do their job.

 1. Ensure you remove all organic matter like grease and dirt from your hands.

2. Squirt a dime-size amount to the palm of one of your hands.

3. For at least thirty seconds, thoroughly rub your hands together, ensuring you cover all surfaces of both hands. This includes between your fingers and up and around your nails and fingertips. Doing so ensures your hands fully absorb the product. And remember not to touch anything until your hands are completely dry.

That’s it. Proper application of alcohol-based hand sanitizers takes less time than it would to phone in a food order. They immediately get to work, killing 99.99 percent of all microorganisms on your hands and allowing you to get on with your day-to-day.

Is Alcohol-based Hand Sanitizer Safe for Children?

Hand sanitizer can be an effective way for kids to kill microbes on their hands when soap and water isn’t a readily available option. However, some kids are getting adventurous by intentionally consuming sanitizer, which can be detrimental to their health. This is because some products contain alcohol concentrations that range from 60% to as high as 95%.

Consuming just a couple of squirts can trigger alcohol poisoning that manifests as slow breathing, vomiting, diarrhea, confusion, reduced body temperature, and pale skin color. Therefore, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following tips to ensure kids’ safety.

  • Store alcohol-based hand sanitizers out of children’s reach. While a lick probably won’t make a child ill, they may consume enough to cause alcohol poisoning.
  • Monitor the use of sanitizer. Squirt a dime-sized amount on a child’s dry hands and have them thoroughly rub their hands together until the product completely dries off.
  • Ensure kids don’t put hands that have wet sanitizer in their mouths.
  • Teach children the effective way of using sanitizer so that they can use it safely at school and other public settings.

How Effective are Hand Sanitizers that are Flying Off the Shelves?

Since the coronavirus outbreak, hand sanitizer sales have soared by 80.7% in the U.S. It’s become a sought-after product that grocery stores and pharmacies are rationing the number that people can purchase at a go. New York even announced that it’d produce its own hand sanitizer due to the skyrocketing demand.

While they significantly diminish the likelihood of catching certain infectious diseases, not all hand sanitizers are effective against COVID-19. As with the common cold and flu, among other respiratory diseases, this pandemic is mainly spread through the transfer of virus-laden droplets from one person to another.

Did you know that people unintentionally touch their faces approximately 23 times per hour? Therefore, you can also get respiratory viruses like COVID-19 by touching contaminated surfaces then touching your face, particularly your nose, eyes, or mouth.

This is why hand-washing with soap and water remains the gold standard for hygiene and curbing the transmission of infectious diseases. Nevertheless, hand sanitizers with high alcohol content are also foolproof in eradicating disease-causing microbes, particularly in scenarios when hand soap and water are out of reach.

Destroying Viruses

Alcohol has the uncanny ability to attack and kill the envelope protein that encompasses some viruses like the coronavirus. The protein is crucial in a virus’s multiplication and survival. Therefore, hand sanitizing with a product that has an alcohol content of at least 60% will destroy most viruses.

Studies prove that products containing less than 60% alcohol are less effective at destroying fungi and bacteria and may only inhibit the growth of germs rather than kill them. Moreover, they may not eradicate all types of germs. Reports show that hand washing is more in killing norovirus, Cryptosporidium, and bacteria like Clostridium difficile that cause diarrhea and bowel problems.

Focus on Your Home’s High-Contact Surfaces

Researchers have discovered that the novel coronavirus can live on surfaces like cardboard for 24 hours and up to three days on stainless steel and plastic. So, cleaning and sanitizing high-contact surfaces such as the ones below is an important step to take.

  • Table surfaces
  • Kitchen counters
  • Remote controls
  • Doorknobs
  • Light switches
  • Toilet seat and handle
  • Bathroom counters
  • Chairs
  • Faucet knobs
  • Game controllers
  • Faucets
  • Appliances

Now that you know what you’re cleaning, here’s the best way to do it.

1. Clean: It entails getting rid of any debris, dust, or contaminants using soapy water coupled with a hand towel.

2. Disinfect: The most efficient way to do this is by using disinfectant spray or wipes.

Hand Sanitizing Is Not a Substitute for Hand Washing

When you apply good technique and patience, hand washing is the best way to kill germs. According to the CDC, ideal hand washing entails following the steps below.

1. Wet your hands with running water then apply liquid soap, hand gel, or antibacterial soap.

2. Rub your hands with soap to lather them everywhere, paying special attention to underneath your fingernails and in between fingers.

3. Scrub your hands for 20-30 seconds before rinsing them with clean running water.

4. Air-dry your hands or wipe them using a clean towel.

While alcohol-based hand sanitizers are an effective way to sterilize hands, they can’t get the job done with the presence of dirt, grease, and other particles. It’s for this reason that they’re not a great option during meal prep, when fatty materials, water, blood, and food, are more likely to be present on your hands. Moreover, they cannot remove toxic chemicals like pesticides and heavy metals from hands.

Types of Hand Sanitizers

Based on the active ingredient used, hand sanitizer, also known as hand rub, falls into two categories.

  • Alcohol-based: It’s a waterless hand sanitizer that contains isopropanol, ethanol, or alcohol as an active ingredient and is a beast in killing germs and bacteria. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, these hand sanitizers should contain at least 60 percent alcohol for optimum efficacy. However, the most common side-effect of consistently using these products is the cracking and drying of hands.

    This is because the high alcohol content strips away the oils in your skin that retain moisture. Consequentially, this increases skin irritation, which ushers in symptoms of dermatitis. Nevertheless, global health bodies like the CDC, FDA, and WHO recommend alcohol-based products as the second-best option for washing your hands with soap. Their efficacy is unmatched and continues to withstand the test of time.
  • Alcohol-free: These products come in water-based foam and contain Benzalkonium Chloride as the active ingredient. Contrary to the alcohol-based counterparts, alcohol-free hand sanitizer typically has a Benzalkonium concentration of below 0.1%, but still gets the job done. The rest of the solution is mostly water and skin conditioners like green tea extract and vitamin E.

    The main difference between alcohol-based and alcohol-free products is that the latter is non-flammable, and the negligible Benzalkonium concentration makes it fairly non-toxic in instances of accidental ingestion. Alcohol-free products are also easier on the hands and continue offering protection from different types of germs long after the solution has dried.

Tips To Choose the Ideal Hand Sanitizer

While both types of products are a beast in killing harmful microbes, selecting the ideal product boils down to your needs. So, below are some of the essential buying factors to consider.

  • Environment: If you work in a manufacturing facility, learning institution, or rehabilitation center, an alcohol-free product might be a better option. It’ll give you much-needed protection from fire or ingestion. If you work in a hospital that requires you to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s stringent guidelines, you may need an alcohol-based product.
  • Budget: Alcohol-free products are cheaper with more applications per gallon. While a gallon of each may cost the same, you’ll typically get more applications out of a foaming hand sanitizer. The reason for this is, the dispensing mechanism injects air to the solution during the application, which makes the product last longer.
  • Ingredients: It may sound cliché, but if you’re allergic to anything, then avoid that in your hand sanitizer. According to Forbes, consumers read labels on anything they purchase, particularly food products. So, why not exercise the same caution with hand sanitizers? If you generally have skin allergies, then alcohol-free products infused with moisturizers may be more suitable.

    Reading the labels also helps you identify toxic chemicals disguised under terms like ‘fragrance’ to deceive consumers. An example is phthalates that cause low sperm count in men.
  • Brand: While countless hand sanitizer brands have littered the market, it’s a no-brainer that they’re not all effective. So, some of the top brands that might be a good option for you are 3M Avagard, Purell, Form + Function, Germ-X, Mountain Falls, Solimo, and Art Naturals. And, they tally with the guidelines of the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.

Make Your Hand Sanitizer from Scratch

Those empty shelves due to the coronavirus outbreak have compelled some people to device their homemade sanitizer.  The good news is, all it takes is the following three ingredients and voila you’ll have a DIY hand sanitizer that’s as good as a store-bought counterpart.

  • Rubbing alcohol or isopropyl alcohol  (99 percent alcohol content)
  • Aloe Vera gel
  • Essential oil like peppermint, lavender, tea tree, or eucalyptus. However, lemon juice is just as effective.


1. Pour the ingredients into a bowl that has a pouring spout, such as a glass measuring container.

2. Stir the contents with a spoon then beat them with a whisk to form a gel.

3. Transfer the contents into an empty bottle and label it ‘hand sanitizer’ for easy use.

4. The secret to making an effective DIY hand sanitizer is to stick to a 2:1 ratio of alcohol to Aloe Vera. Doing so ensures the alcohol content doesn’t fall below the 60 percent mark, which is the lowest amount required to most bacteria and harmful microbes.

Tips When Making Hand Sanitizer At Home

  • Wash your hands thoroughly with generic soap or liquid antibacterial soap before making the sanitizer.
  • Make the sanitizer in a clean environment which entails wiping down countertops with a sodium hypochlorite solution or diluted bleach beforehand.
  • Wash the whisk or spoon thoroughly before using them to mix the contents.
  • Do not dilute the alcohol you use.
  • Stir the ingredients thoroughly until they blend perfectly.
  • Refrain from touching the mixture with your hands until it’s ready to use.

Alternative Products to Hand Sanitizer

With everyone rushing to buy hand sanitizer, supplies have run low. As a result, opportunists are price-gouging and hoarding. Luckily, we’ve rounded up some alternative products that are equally as effective, and the good news is, you probably have them in your home.

  • Plain vinegar: It’s an antibacterial agent that’s nonpolluting, edible, and non-toxic. You can store some in a small spray bottle to carry in your bag, do a quick rub-down on your hands then let it dry.
  • Hydrogen peroxide: Keep a small spray bottle in your bag. However, ensure it’s dark-colored because exposure to light will oxidize it. When hydrogen peroxide comes into contact with bacteria, it oxidizes. This causes the bacteria to decompose. So, spray it on your hands, allow it to foam, then let it dry off, and you’re good to go.
  • Rubbing alcohol: Mix one part water with two parts rubbing alcohol, commonly known as surgical spirit, and use it to disinfect germy hands and points of contact.

Where To Buy Hand Sanitizer: Our Recommendations

Like many essential products, most local stores and pharmacies are sold out of hand sanitizers. Luckily, Essential Goods keeps an updated list of hand sanitizers and shows you when they’re back in stock on Amazon. You can check them out below and sign up to our site to receive notifications on when products are back in stock. 

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