Alcohol content of hand sanitizers

By HSC Staff Writer • Published: June 20th, 2006
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Walk around any hospital, day care center or cruise ship these days and you’re likely to see wall1mounted dispensers of hand sanitizer. As an alternative to hand-washing, these rub1on products are both convenient and effective in killing germs when used properly.

But not all hand sanitizers are created equal. A study published in the Journal of Infectious Disease served as a reminder that these rubs must contain an alcohol content of at least sixty percent to kill most harmful bacteria and viruses. At least one store-bought brand of sanitizer tested in the study and other homemade recipes circulating on the Web had alcohol concentrations well below the sixty percent threshold.

Users of these products should check the labels for active ingredients. Alcohol content… sometimes labeled as ethyl alcohol, ethanol or isopropanol [EYE1so1PRO1pen1all]… should be between sixty and ninety1five percent.

Thoroughly washing hands with soap and water is still considered the first line of defense against the unwitting transfer of germs. But hand sanitizers can be an important supplement when facilities for handwashing aren’t available… such as in the car, on a picnic or at the office. Indeed, studies have shown that the computer keyboard, the telephone handset and the desk can harbor more microbes than the common bathroom.

Although alcohol content of hand sanitizers is important, don’t forget about technique. A generous amount of the product must be applied all over the hands, which are rubbed together until dry. If your hands dry before fifteen seconds, you probably didn’t use enough.