How Does Hand Sanitizer Kill Germs?

Illustration of how hand sanitizers kill germs

Hand sanitizers are an acceptable way to clean your hands in the absence of soap and water. They are efficient, convenient, and portable. Consequently, they were one of the first things to fly off the shelves when Covid-19 took over the world back in early 2020. So, how does hand sanitizer kill germs? 

How Does Hand Sanitizer Kill Germs?

Hand sanitizers kill germs, and bacteria by dissolving their outer membrane, as long and they have an active ingredient. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers that work usually contain ethyl alcohol or isopropyl alcohol, also known as rubbing alcohol. Alcohol-free hand sanitizers with antimicrobial compounds, such as benzalkonium chloride, are also effective against numerous harmful germs and bacteria

The CDC recommended using alcohol-based hand sanitizer with 60% or higher concentration levels to ensure maximum efficacy against viruses, including SARS-CoV-2. The alcohol molecules at this concentration can bind with the lipid membranes, which surround these “enveloped” viruses, eventually dissolving them to eliminate the cells within. A lower-strength sanitizer can not kill germs adequately. Different kinds of hand sanitizers with a piece of face mask beside them

How long can you stay protected with Alcohol-Free Hand Sanitizers?

Alcohol-free hand sanitizers usually have another active ingredient, such as benzalkonium chloride. Even at a low concentration of 0.13%, the agent can eliminate a broad range of germs and bacteria. 

GlanHealth Hand Sanitizer kills 99.9% of the harmful germs it comes in contact within as little as 15 seconds by disrupting the outer cell membranes resulting in a physical kill. GlanHealth Hand Sanitizers deliver up to 4 hours of powerful protections against harmful germs and bacteria.

Does Hand Sanitizer Kill All the Germs?

No, hand sanitizers are not able to kill all the germs, regardless of the strength of the product. Pathogens that are resistant to the effects of alcohol include norovirus and severe diarrhea-inducing germs, Clostridium difficile, and Cryptosporidium.

Hand sanitizers also do not remove harmful chemicals such as pesticides and heavy metals from your hands. Moreover, if your hands are visibly dirty or greasy, like after engaging in outdoor sports or handling equipment, you should use soap and water instead of hand sanitizer to clean your hands. 

Is Soap and Water Better Than Hand Sanitizer?

Soap and water are the best and the most preferable method to maintain excellent hand hygiene. Washing your hands can get rid of all the germs, including those that are resistant to alcohol and other active agents, like salmonella and staphylococcus. In addition, all kinds of soaps function the same way, so you do not need to buy a sanitizing soap to combat germs.Person washing their hands

Soap works to disrupt the bonds that allow the pathogens to stick to your hands. When you lather your hands with soapy suds for at least 20 seconds, the sticky bonds are broken and the pathogens slide off your hands when you pour water over them.

Therefore, you should always prioritize washing hands, especially:

  • Before and after preparing and eating food
  • Before and after caring for a sick person or treating a wound
  • After using the washroom, changing the diaper, or helping a child clean themselves in the toilet
  • After touching pets or anything pet-related
  • After taking out the trash

How to Use Hand Sanitizer Properly

Hand sanitizers are only effective as long as you use them properly. Some individuals fail to apply the sanitizing gel for the correct duration or wipe their hands before the solution is completely dry, making it impossible for the sanitizer to eliminate the viruses and bacteria. 

Therefore, check the label to see how much hand sanitizer you need to apply, usually, a quarter-sized quantity is sufficient. Take the recommended quantity in the palm of your hands and rub it all over your hands, covering every surface. Pay special attention to fingertips and nails. Keep massaging your hands until they feel dry.

Supervise children when they are using hand sanitizers to make sure that they are cleaning their hands correctly. Moreover, make sure that kids do not lick their hands or rub their eyes immediately after applying the gel. Young children also have a higher risk of accidentally drinking hand sanitizers, which can cause alcohol poisoning.

Illustration of how hand sanitizers kill germsCan Hand Sanitizer Be Toxic?

FDA released a list of hand sanitizers that are not safe to use. Some of these sanitizers contained certain types of alcohol that are not acceptable in hand sanitizers. These include methanol and 1-propanol, which are toxic substances.

Methanol, also known as wood alcohol, is not safe for topical application or ingesting. Swallowing hand sanitizers contaminated with methanol can cause serious health issues, including permanent blindness and even death.  

1-propanol can be toxic for human beings if ingested. Drinking hand sanitizers with 1-propanol can cause breathing issues and decreased heart rate, as well as more serious symptoms, and death. If you apply a hand sanitizer with 1-propanol on the skin, it can cause severe irritation and, in rare cases, an allergic reaction.

Related Questions

How Long Does Hand Sanitizer Last on Hands?

The effects of alcohol-based hand sanitizer do not last for very long. Contrary to popular belief, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer is only active for around two minutes after you apply it. Once the alcohol removes the germs, it evaporates leaving behind the inactive ingredients. Thus, you need to reapply the sanitizer in case of recontamination. 


Proper hand hygiene is the best way to mitigate exposure to cold and flu, and the spread of harmful germs and bacteria. Washing hands with soap and water is the first line of defense, but sometimes this is not convenient or possible. Most sanitizing body sprays contain over 60% alcohol to poison harmful germs. Not only does that make them highly flammable, but it also heightens the risk of ingesting a highly toxic mixture. Continuous use of alcohol-based sanitizers can dry out the skin and lead to painful irritations, including allergic rashes and the cracking of the skin. GlanHealth’s Advanced Hand Sanitizer is water-based and contains no alcohol. It’s also non-flammable and non-poisonous. It’s the safe and effective choice for the whole family!