With the COVID-19 pandemic dominating the collective consciousness across the globe, everyone is doing what it takes to stop the spread. But many people are starting to ask the question:  does hand sanitizer work?

One of the foremost tools in the fight against the novel coronavirus is hand sanitizer. Typically made from a solution containing isopropanol or ethanol (both types of alcohol), this clear, germ-killing compound is in high demand.

Read on to learn more about hand sanitizer works, the best way to use hand sanitizer, and how effective hand sanitizer is in eliminating germs and viruses.

How Hand Sanitizer is Made

The primary ingredient in most hand sanitizer is alcohol, which has been used as an antiseptic since the 1300s. A 2014 study published in Clinical Microbiology Review found alcohol destroys pathogens by obliterating proteins, breaking cells into fragments, or reducing a cell’s metabolism.

While there are several formulations available on the market, nearly all hand sanitizers contain at minimum a mixture of ethanol or isopropanol alcohol, glycerol, hydrogen peroxide, and distilled water. Some producers add gelling agents and/or fragrances to make the use of their products more pleasant and reduce skin drying.

The percentage of alcohol in hand sanitizers varies, but should be between 60% and 95% for it to be effective according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines. When used properly, hand sanitizer works to reduce the number of microbes on the hands. Alcohol-free hand sanitizers are available but are not recommended due to their lack of antibacterial agents. 

How to Use Hand Sanitizer

The CDC has recommended following these steps when using hand sanitizer:

Step 1:  Apply the product to the palm of one hand (read the label to learn the correct amount) 
Step 2: Rub the product all over the surfaces of your hands until your hands are dry.

Much like handwashing guidelines, it is suggested the process takes twenty seconds, or the amount of time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice.

If your hands are overly dirty or greasy, hand sanitizer may not work as well. Proper handwashing is always ideal, but if it’s not possible, wipe your hands off and then apply hand sanitizer to ensure it doesn’t get repelled by substances already present.

Does Hand Sanitizer Work on Gloves?

The COVID-19 has led to an increase in the use of gloves, especially disposable ones. Many people are wondering if it’s okay to use hand sanitizer on nitrile or latex gloves, and whether it’s effective at preventing the spread of germs. Unfortunately, the jury is still out on this one. Despite studies showing hand sanitizer does not degrade the gloves’ integrity, most healthcare professionals do not endorse the practice. 

Remember that disposable gloves were designed for single use only and re-using them may not guarantee a 100% sanitary experience.

Does Hand Sanitizer Expire?

The short answer:  no. Commercial hand sanitizer will have an expiration date printed on the bottle because of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)’s requirements, but since the ingredients are shelf stable, the product will never technically “go bad.” What is more likely is it will become less effective after a long amount of time since alcohol does evaporate.

Survey Says:  Hand Sanitizer Works

When proper hand washing is not possible, using hand sanitizer containing 60-95% alcohol can greatly reduce the risk of passing along germs and viruses. Alcohol has long been used as an antibacterial tool as it destroys pathogens from within and is cheap and easy to produce. When using hand sanitizer, it’s important to apply enough to completely cover the hands prior to evaporation. 

Follow these suggestions to stay healthy and disease-free!