Is Your Hand Sanitizer Effective and Safe?

July 24, 2020

At a time when hand cleanliness is more important than ever, it can be concerning to hear about the numerous hand sanitizer recalls by the FDA, especially if you didn't realize there are some major differences among the hand sanitizers available on the market. We're here to help by using our healthcare-industry expertise to break down the essential information you need to know, including ingredients to look for and proper application.

First, before we go any further, check your inventory against the list of recalled hand sanitizers. If your preferred hand sanitizer is on the recall list, stop use immediately and replace your inventory.

Now let's get down to hand sanitizer basics.


What Is Hand Sanitizer?
Washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds is the preferred method for cleaning hands, especially if they're visibly dirty. Hand sanitizer, also known as hand antiseptic or hand rub, is a convenient alternative when washing hands with soap and water isn't an option. They effectively kill germs when used properly.


Does Hand Sanitizer Need to Be Applied in a Specific Way?
There is a proper way to apply hand sanitizer.

  • Use enough hand sanitizer to cover all surfaces of both hands - one or two pumps is usually sufficient.
  • Rub hands together, making sure you get between your fingers and the back of your hands.
  • Rub until they feel dry, about 20 seconds (the same recommended time for washing hands with soap and water).
  • DO NOT wipe or rinse off the hand sanitizer before it is dry. Like kill times for surface disinfectants, hand sanitizer should be left to dry to be effective.


What Are the Different Types of Hand Sanitizer?
Now is a good time to have your hand sanitizer label handy.

For hand sanitizer formulas, there are alcohol-based and non-alcohol based.


For COVID-19, alcohol-based is preferred because many studies have found that sanitizers with an alcohol concentration between 60–95% are more effective at killing germs than those with a lower alcohol concentration or nonalcohol-based hand sanitizers. If your hand sanitizer is not alcohol based or has less than 60% ethanol alcohol or 70% isopropyl alcohol, it might reduce the growth of germs but not kill them.

If the recalled hand sanitizer was alcohol based, what's the problem?
The reason the FDA recalled those alcohol-based hand sanitizers was the type of alcohol found in them - methanol - can be toxic when absorbed through the skin or ingested.

Nonalcohol Based

Nonalcohol hand sanitizers use quaternary ammonium compounds, usually benzalkonium chloride, as the active ingredient. Benzalkonium chloride is "deemed eligible" by the FDA for hand sanitizers, but the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says studies show it "has less reliable activity against certain bacteria and viruses than either of the alcohols." To be safe during this pandemic, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer is best.


Which Is Best - Liquid, Gel, or Foam?
As far as efficacy, the delivery method - liquid, gel, foam - is not a factor. As long as the hand sanitizer has the proper formulation and is applied correctly and not wiped off, it will work. The choice for you comes down to price and benefits like reduction in dripping (foam tends not to drip compared to liquid or gel).


Be Wary of False Claims
While hand sanitizers are regulated as over-the-counter (nonprescription) drugs by the FDA, the FDA does not "approve" them. The proper wording to look for would be "FDA registered". Be suspect of any claim of "FDA Approved". If you're not sure of the wording, search the FDA hand sanitizer database to see if it is registered.


Learn More
Try testing your knowledge about hand sanitizers by taking this short quiz by the FDA.

If you have any questions about hand sanitizer, please call us at 877-222-2013. We're here to help.

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