A Comprehensive Look at Benzalkonium Chloride (BZK) for Sanitizing Skin and Surfaces

From wine to vinegar and sulfur to mercury, all of these compounds were used in ancient times to sanitize surfaces. Fast forwarding in history to the late 1600s, it was noted that vinegar killed microorganisms. Carbolic acid, also known as a phenol, was then used in the late 1800s for sterilization in surgical theater; over time phenols were found to be carcinogenic and use declined since the 1970s. Benzalkonium chloride (BZK) was introduced in 1935 as the first quaternary ammonium compound on the market for sanitizing. Eighty-five years later, BZK is still used in the sanitizing industry.


Figure 1: Benzalkonium chloride molecular structure, image credit Researchgate

In 2019, the U.S. FDA issued a final ruling announcing three approved active ingredients in hand sanitizer:

  • Benzalkonium chloride
  • Isopropyl alcohol
  • Ethyl alcohol

At the time of this writing, the FDA has issued an ongoing product recall of more than 160 brands of alcohol-based hand sanitizer. The product recall has created consumer mistrust and the need to conduct due diligence on what type of personal skin and surface sanitizer is an ideal choice.

It is now prudent for consumers to know what benzalkonium chloride is, how long it has been used in sanitizing, and how it is being used to revolutionize the alcohol-free sanitizing industry today.


BZK is an organic salt that is classified as a quaternary ammonium compound (QAC). By definition, a quaternary ammonium compound (QAC) is any of number of strong bases and their salts derived from ammonium by replacing of hydrogen atoms with organic radicals. A keyword in consumer decision making is organic.

While BZK can be synthesized and it can also be combined with other compounds, BZK is a QAC that is found in everyday use products ranging from disinfectants and anti-bacterial cleaners to eye drops. As a preservative, benzalkonium chloride (BZK), as explained in an article by Pharmacy Times, “…has been used in ophthalmology since the 1940s, and is found in up to 70% of eye drops.” The article continues to explain that a quaternary ammonium compound is effective with, “…lysing cell membranes, and killing microorganisms. This makes it very effective as a preservative.”

While there are many uses for BZK, this article is intended to focus on its use for sanitizing skin and surfaces.


Used for nearly 100 years in sanitizing and proven safe by medical research, BZK is effective with addressing both harmful bacteria and viruses – including coronavirus. It is interesting to note that governmental agencies have historically promoted alcohol-based sanitizing over BZK with the explanation that “more research” is required.

In a research report by American Journal of Infection Control, the comparison of 0.12% BZK to a 70% ethanol alcohol sanitizing solution was evaluated. The report states, “Our study was designed to determine if the use of this new BZK-based hand sanitizer product was superior to, equal to, or inferior to a 70% ethanol-based hand sanitizer in the reduction of transient pathogenic staphylococci from the hands of health care workers (HCWs) in ‘real-world’ conditions.”

Researchers discovered that, “a significant reduction in total bacterial colony counts of S aureus (Staphylococcus aureus) during the week of BZK use as compared with the week of 70% ethanol sanitizer use.” The study concluded with desire to modify hand hygiene protocols with BZK to address the problem of “nosocomial infections from S aureus”.

This body of research is one of many reports that addresses BZK’s use with microbes and proves that BZK is effective in sanitizing.


When conducting due diligence on sanitizing products, the reality is consumers can go to any retail or online store and with a piercing eye see sanitizing product labels stating “kills 99.9%” of germs. There is no sanitizing product that is proven to kill “germs” (bacteria or virus) 100% of the time. This is due to the pesky nature of gram-negative bacteria that represents the remaining 0.01%.

What consumers need to be concerned with are the overall risk factors with sanitizing products. If the effectiveness is equal or better and the risk with use is lower, this is a key factor in the decision-making process.

In today’s reality, consumers are facing an ongoing FDA product recall for alcohol-based sanitizer contamination. This ongoing product warning and recall has created consumer fear and mistrust worldwide. Adverse reactions of alcohol-based sanitizing products include skin irritation, increased blood alcohol content with overuse, and death with ingestion. Alcohol is flammable and toxic.

While bleach is a widely recognized active ingredient in everyday household cleaners, a National Institutes of Health report on bleach toxicity indicates that it is corrosive to metal and overexposure can cause respiratory and gastrointestinal adverse reactions.

In contrast, alcohol-free sanitizers made with BZK by GlanHealth™ are environmentally safe and can be used on any surface – including metal and electronics – and are long-lasting for more than four hours on skin and more than 20 days per application on surfaces.


Persistence in sanitizing means that a product is long-lasting. GlanHealth™ is an industry leader in persistent alcohol-free sanitizing, from skin to surfaces. The Company’s innovations incorporate the science of sanitizing for the benefit of consumers and businesses worldwide. By nature of being alcohol-free and long-lasting (4-hours on skin, 20+ days on surfaces), the world is now experiencing persistence, purity, and peace of mind with GlanHealth™ sanitizing products.

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