Does Hand Sanitizer Really Work?

Germs are everywhere. And even though our immune systems repeatedly work overtime to keep us healthy, sometimes the body needs allies. We know that our hands are like germ magnets, picking up harmful bacteria all day long. Thankfully washing your hands, is one of the best things you can do to avoid transmitting those germs into your body, avoiding illness and preventing the spread of potentially harmful germs.

 

In today’s fast-paced world, sometimes clean running water and soap just aren’t readily available. And even if it is, running to the sink every time you touch a dirty surface seems a bit extreme.

 

Thankfully we’ve created the most convenient alternative to soap and water…hand sanitizer!

 

People across the globe rely on hand sanitizers everyday to help them avoid getting sick. But how do we really know these mystery gels actually work? Thankfully there’s researchers out there doing a squeaky clean job at helping us identify which hand sanitizers work best.

 

So let’s go on a sanitizing journey to clean our hands with confidence!

 

What are the different types of hand sanitizers?

There are two types of hand sanitizers on the market approved by the FDA: alcohol-based and alcohol-free.

 

Alcohol-free hand sanitizers often contain 0.1% concentration of benzalkonium chloride, a quaternary ammonium, combined with water and enhanced with skin conditioners like vitamin E and green tea extract. This combination acts like a detergent, destroying cell membranes and killing microorganisms.

 

Unfortunately, studies suggest alcohol free-hand sanitizers might only reduce the growth of germs rather than killing them altogether. Of course, this option is better than using nothing at all, but it’s extremely important to read labels and understand the active ingredients weaker capabilities.

 

Alcohol-based hand sanitizers contain anywhere from 60-95% alcohol in combination with emollients, thickening agents, and sometimes fragrance. The types of alcohol used in most hand sanitizers are ethyl alcohol (ethanol) and isopropyl alcohol (isopropanol).

 

Ethanol is the same chemical in alcoholic beverages that classify them as alcoholic. It is a well-known antimicrobial agent, first recommended for the treatment of hand washing in the year 1888.

 

Isopropanol and n-propanol are commonly used because of its disinfectant prosperities and that it is easily soluble in water. These antimicrobial agents were introduced into the hand disinfectant community in 1904.

 

How does hand sanitizer work?

We all know alcohol kills bacteria. However, the actual science behind that idea might not be as equally understood.

 

Alcohol has been our go-to disinfectant for centuries. In Ancient Egypt, sap from a palm tree with an alcohol percentage of 4 percent, known as palm wine, was used to both clean wounds and embalm deceased bodies. Today, all those disinfectants lining Target shelves contain alcoholic solutions to clean countertops, doorknobs, and our hands. But how?

 

Alcohol kills bacteria through a process named denaturation. Denaturation, in biology, refers to the change in the molecular structure of a protein. These changes take place by various ways of external stress—by heating, treatment with acid, alkali or detergents, or by vigorous shaking.

 

So when infectious bacteria are confronted with alcohol molecules, the alcohol first bonds with the bacteria’s cell membranes to make it more soluble in water. This causes the cell membrane to begin to fall apart and lose its structure. As the alcohol breaks down their protective membranes, the bacteria grows weaker thus allowing more alcohol molecules to enter the cell. The alcohol molecules then begin to dissolve the proteins within the bacteria cell through denaturation. Because bacteria cannot survive without these protein functions, the cell dies from the inside out.

 

It’s a quick, painless death. A small sacrifice for the greater good.

Does hand sanitizer work on viruses?

The short answer is yes.

 

The long answer begins with the understanding that the capacity to destroy or inactivate viruses largely depends on the amount of alcohol concentration in a given bottle of hand sanitizer. Higher concentrations of alcohols generally are more effective at killing viruses than lower concentrations. Research shows that anywhere between 60-95% concentrations of alcohols are most successful at defeating germs, especially viruses.

 

Research has shown that high levels of ethanol (60-85%) has shown to destroy many different types of viruses, including:

 

  • rotaviruses
  • rhinovirus
  • influenza A virus
  • adenovirus
  • poliovirus
  • Newcastle disease virus
  • HIV
  • HBV
  • herpes simplex viruses
  • togaviruses
  • echoviruses
  • astroviruses
  • vaccinia virus

In the same study, isopropanol and n-propanol were studied to find its level of effectiveness on germs.  These types of alcohols are actually most effective on fighting bacteria, with concentrations of 30-90% (see the video below).  Against viruses, results were limited and did not include enteroviruses like polio, hand foot and mouth disease (HFMD), or aseptic meningitis. The good news is that if the exposure time is extended, up to 10 minutes, the more likely those viruses will be destroyed.

 

This study was done on the effectiveness of ethanol-based hand sanitizers for the removal of rhinovirus (the common cold virus) from the hands. A group of 95 healthy individuals contaminated the tips of their fingers with an ineffective dose of the rhinovirus and then instructed to one of six different hand treatments comparing hand washing with soap and water compared to ethanol based hand sanitizers. The ethanol hand sanitizers was by far the most effective treatment for removal of the rhinovirus from the hands.

 

Looking at another study done on the efficacy of soap and water compared to alcohol-based hand-rub on the removal of the influenza virus, showed surprising results. Although the research showed that soap and water worked better at removing the virus from the hands, the actual difference was minuscule. This group of researchers concluded that hand washing with an 60-70% alcohol-based hand rub is highly effective in reducing the influenza virus on human hands.

 

Hepatitis A virus (HAV) may be the only virus that an alcohol-based hand sanitizer does not fully inactivate. However, a 95% concentration of ethanol has shown to reduce the amount of HAV.

 

Check out this video of how hand sanitizer completely annihilates these germs!

Does hand sanitizer expire?

Over the counter drug products must list an expiration date unless they have data showing that the product remains effective for more than three years. Unfortunately, there is no information of the effectiveness of drugs past their expiration date, so it is best to use within the time frame allotted.

 

The expiration date chosen refers to the last date at which the product contains the full amount of alcohol concentration specified on the label. Because alcohol has a low boiling point, it evaporates very easily. As the bottle is opened and closed, or if the temperature outside fluctuates, some of the alcohol may escape, ultimately lessening the effectiveness of the product. So to answer this question…

 

Yes, alcohol-based hand sanitizers effectiveness does have an expiration date due to the nature of the product. However there are ways of avoiding its vaporizing death.

 

Keep the container sealed and at room temperature. Alcohol is a shelf-stable chemical. This means that if alcohol is kept in an air-tight container at room temperature, it will remain at the same concentration. This just means no leaving your mini hand sanitizer bottle in the hot car through the summer or left open on your desk.

 

Taking these small measures ensures clean hands for a very very long time.


Here at USimprints...

Knowing that our hands are little germ magnets is the first step to avoiding illness. Not only do germs destroy your health, productivity is lost and any social plans cease to exist. Taking action and washing our hands is the next best step you can take to prevent getting ill and avoid spreading infections to other people.

 

With access to mini hand sanitizer bottles in bulk, you can ensure that you and those in your community, in your office, and at home stay protected against nasty destructive germs.

 

In today's climate, health is everyone's number one priority. We can also help customize your hand sanitizers so that everyone knows who is responsible for keeping them safe and healthy. Due to the current PPE demand, be sure to order your supply today as the supply and shipping times can fluctuate.

 

Stay safe out there!