I have always been skeptical of hand sanitizers. I think that it stems from my dislike of most types of hand and body lotions. I find the fruity smells nauseating. So I have always belittled hand sanitizers ability to actually sanitize anything. I’ve also been unconvinced of the need to sanitize your hands.

In my workplace, pump bottles of hand sanitizer lie in various places around the rooms and offices. One day when examining a bottle I noticed that it is 62% ethyl alcohol. This got me thinking that perhaps there was something to their cleansing ability.

So I decided to do a bit of reading on the subject. What I discovered was that hand sanitizers come in a few different forms. There is Gel, Foam, Wipes and Sprays. But do they work better than plain soap and water?

Effectiveness of Hand Sanitizers

The University of Virginia Medical School researchers say yes and concluded that hand sanitizing is more effective against fighting the common cold than hand washing. 1

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) the “average hand” has 150 different species of bacteria and that washing hands 5 times a day reduces illnesses by 45%! They  recommend that hand sanitizer be used to clean your hands when they are not visibly dirty.

A controlled study by GOJO Industries of 200 FedEx workers in 2004 showed that placing hand sanitizer dispensers in an office and educating workers about their use resulted in a 21% reduction in absenteeism.2

Similar reductions in absenteeism have been observed in elementary schools and college dormitories.

Hand sanitizers should be rubbed into the hands for 15 seconds while still wet. This means to be effective you need to pump much more sanitizer into your palm than you think. By the time the sanitizer dries the germs and bacteria will be dead.

Ingredients In Hand Sanitizers

Most products contain one of three different active ingredients that kill germs.

Ethyl Alcohol is the most common active ingredient. Alcohol rub sanitizers normally come between 60% and 85% concentration. It is very good at killing most types of germs including most bacteria, fungi and some viruses.

A common misconception is that alcohol based sanitizers dry the skin. In fact alcohol rubs are well adapted to cleansing skin. Ethyl alcohol rubs actually dries skin less than soap and water.

Triclosan is another less common disinfectant found in some sanitizers.

Benzalkonium chloride is an antiseptic that has been in use for years but is only recently found in hand sanitizing rubs. Like Triclosan, the concentration levels are around 0.1% It is a full spectrum germ killer. It is the active ingredient in Bactine Antiseptic Spray, which has been used on children’s scrapes for many years.

It is possible for entire containers of sanitizers utilizing Triclosan or Benzalkonium Chloride to become contaminated. This is because these sanitizers lack alcohol as an in-solution preservative.

Other Benefits of Hand Sanitizers

Recently, it has become common for luxury skin care items to use natural and scented oils to produce hand sanitizers that also have a fragrant smell. Burt’s Bees is a common brand. Most also contain added moisterizers to keep your hands from feeling dry or tough.

While I'm still not a fan of my hands smelling fruity, I can no longer doubt the effectiveness of hand sanitizers and the benefit they add to our society.


1. Cavalier Daily, March 26, 2020. "Research Shows Hand Sanitiers More Effective Against Cold" http://www.cavalierdaily.com/2010/03/26/research-shows-hand-sanitizers-more-effective-against-cold/

2. "FedEx Custom Critical Outcome Study Executive Update Interim Report" GOJO Industries, July 27, 2004