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Facts about Hand Sanitizer

By Three Q PERMS on 15 July 2016

As a nurse you are well aware of the importance of hand sanitizer, so here are just a few little facts about the essential tool:

Is using a hand sanitizer a good substitute for soap and water?

It can be—depending on the particular product and situation. The best way to clean your hands is to wash them with plain soap and running water for at least 20 seconds. This creates mechanical friction to loosen and rinse away microbes.

If you don’t have access to soap and water, the next best thing is an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains a minimum of 60% alcohol (typically listed as ethyl alcohol). These products kill most (but not all) bacteria and viruses on contact. They also work well against fungi but not against bacterial spores (such as those created by C. difficile bacteria). Having soiled or greasy hands, as from gardening or cooking, makes the products less effective because the grime creates a barrier to them.

What other ingredients are in them?

They typically have clarifying agents, thickening agents, fragrances, dyes, preservatives, and other “inactive” ingredients. Some contain moisturizers (such as glycerin, vitamin E, and aloe) to counter alcohol’s drying effects and supposedly “leave hands soft.”

How should you use a hand sanitizer?

A common mistake is not using enough. Apply the product (at least a 5¢ amount) to the palm of one hand and then rub your hands together, covering all surfaces of both hands, including between your fingers and up around your fingertips and nails. It should take about 30 seconds of rubbing your hands together for the product to completely dry. Do not touch food or anything else until your hands are dry.

 What about alcohol-free sanitizer?

Instead of alcohol, some hand sanitizers contain quaternary ammonium compounds (notably benzalkonium chloride or benzethonium chloride) to reduce microbes. These agents are less effective than alcohol. They lack evidence of real-life benefits. Other alcohol-free hand sanitizers contain “natural” ingredients like tea tree oil and thyme, which may kill some germs but not enough for them to be good alternatives to an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.


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