Do hand sanitizers actually work?
Do hand sanitizers actually work?

Does a Hand Sanitizer Really Work as Advertised?

19 November 2020

After the world was affected by the corona virus pandemic, people were advised to keep their hands clean at all times. Keeping the hands clean prevents the transmission of the virus from one person to another. The CDC advised people to wash their hands regularly using water and soap. 

Since there are times when water and soap may not be available, people were given the green light to use hand sanitizers to kill the pathogens. The question is, does a hand sanitizer really work? Let's have a look at how they are made and whether or not they work.

How Is a Hand Sanitizer Made?
Hand sanitizers use isopropanol or ethanol as their main ingredient. Alcohol has been known for a long time to be an effective disinfectant against fungi, viruses, and bacteria, provided there is enough alcohol in the mixture. Other ingredients include Benzalkonium chloride, fragrance, and emollients. To make a hand sanitizer, you have to use at least 60-95 % alcohol for it to be effective.

How Does It Work?
A hand sanitizer works by killing microbial cells as it contains rubbing alcohol. The alcohol has very little water in it; therefore, it can penetrate easily. For viruses, a hand sanitizer works by disrupting the virus's outer coat, and for bacteria, it disrupts the cell membrane. Nonetheless, a hand sanitizer is not a panacea as some viruses may not have an outer coat, and some bacteria may not be very susceptible.

What Is the Effectiveness of a Hand Sanitizer?
Hand sanitizers should only act as a backup in the absence of water and soap as they are not as effective as hand washing. Moreover, they have expiry dates and therefore need the right technique and diligence to work.

To use a hand sanitizer, you should apply a specified amount onto your hands and rub both the front and the back of your hands thoroughly until the hands feel dry. This process should roughly take 2 seconds.

Although a hand sanitizer can be efficient in killing some pathogens, it does not kill all of them. Some of the germs that it cannot protect you against include Cryptosporidium, Norovirus, and Clostridium difficile. Moreover, a hand sanitizer does not remove physical dirt, grime, and mucous.

When buying a hand sanitizer or making one at home, it should contain at least 60% to 95%alcohol. Using less concentration will only reduce the growth of microbes but won't kill them completely. Therefore, you should be aware of buying hand sanitizers that contain too little alcohol or those that have alcohol substitutes as they may not be as effective, and the CDC does not recommend them.

When your hands feel visibly dirty and greasy, hand sanitizers may not be as effective. The CDC recommends hand washing in this case. Water and soap are the most effective way of reducing all the dirt and germs from your hands.

Final Thoughts
Although a hand sanitizer effectively kills 99.9 % of germs, it is not the best solution. The CDC advises people to wash their hands using soap and water to get rid of all the dirt. Also, a hand sanitizer may not kill all the germs as some are quite stubborn. It should only be used in cases where water and soap are unavailable.