Does Hand Sanitizer Kill Coronavirus?
Hand sanitizers are a convenient and easy way to clean your hands if soap and water aren’t readily available. According to the FDA, a product can be marked as “hand sanitizer” if it contains ethanol, isopropyl alcohol or benzalkonium chloride as the active ingredient.
There hasn’t been a ruling whether or not to categorize these three ingredients as safe because the agency doesn’t think there is enough research to say. However, they’re still not pulling the products from shelves. Ingredients besides these three are shown to have little evidence at being effective to kill germs and have not won the FDA’s approval.
How does hand sanitizer work?
Hand sanitizers work because most of the active ingredients rely heavily on alcohol. Chemically speaking, alcohol is an organic molecule made of carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen. Ethanol is the chemical in alcoholic drinks and is the chemical that most people think of when they say alcohol. Propanol and isopropyl alcohol are two other ingredients that are commonly found in hand sanitizers because they’re highly soluble in water.
So how do hand sanitizers protect against viruses such as the coronavirus?
Alcohols are eliminating disease-causing agents or pathogens by breaking apart the cells and messing with the cell’s metabolism such as the coronavirus. According to a 2014 review by Clinical Microbiology Reviews, solutions with as little as 30% alcohol have the same pathogen killing ability as those with high alcohol concentrations. Further studies have shown that higher alcohol concentrations work faster and quicker than those with only 30%. However, the effectiveness of alcohol seems to top out at 95% so anything higher is essentially not any better.
Unlike with other solutions, bacteria can’t develop a resistance to alcohol so it doesn’t lose its effectiveness with continued use.
Although alcohol is great at getting rid of most germs, it’s not always effective against all. One of those is norovirus, which is life-threatening diarrhea. It’s essentially a parasite that causes a diarrheal disease called cryptosporidiosis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention mention that hand sanitizers don’t work at removing harmful chemicals like pesticides or heavy metals, nor does it work well on especially dirty or greasy hands. So soap and water still win the content overall as it washes away and eliminates bacteria altogether.
There is a lot of talk about alcohol-free hand sanitizers that have hit the market. There are very few studies done on these types of hands sanitizers to support the claim that they’re just as effective as their alcohol counterparts. The active ingredient in these alcohol-free sanitizers is benzalkonium chloride. This ingredient can potentially be dangerous for some at higher concentrations according to the Hazardous Substances Database.
The CDC has released a statement that hand sanitizers without alcohol may not kill as many germs and may only reduce the number of germs rather than killing them outright. The CDC also recommends using hand sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol in them for maximum effectiveness.
Does hand sanitizer expire?
This is actually a great question. Hand sanitizers actually never really expire. There is usually an expiration date on the bottle because everything that is regulated by the FDA has to have one. An expiration date is supposed to be the last date at which the product contains the ingredients in the amounts specified on the label. Most consumers will never know or not how long the products meet the expiration claim or if the manufacturer just came up with an arbitrary date because the FDA ordered them to. Most of the suppliers are supposed to conduct this testing but not all do.
Alcohol is actually a shelf-stable chemical which means it’ll be in the same concentration for a very long time. Nonetheless, if you open and close the lid to where you store alcohol, it can evaporate over time which may affect the concentration of it. As long as you store it at room temperature and keep it sealed, you’re likely to have an effective product for when you need it.
Is hand sanitizer bad for you or toxic?
Alcohol is considered as safe as an antiseptic and doesn’t have a toxic effect on the skin. It can cause some dryness or mild irritation according to Hazardous Substances. There have also been studies to show that the use of hand sanitizer is less irritating than repeated handwashing with soap. When you’re on the go, using a hand sanitizer is a great option that won’t leave you with dry hands.