Is Benzalkonium Chloride Safe in Hand Sanitizer?

Person holding a hand sanitizer

Benzalkonium Chloride (BAC) is classified as a quaternary ammonium compound and is a common ingredient in many hand sanitizers. It is an antiseptic agent that has been used over the years and is generally recognized by many people. So, is Benzalkonium Chloride safe in hand sanitizer and other products?

Is Benzalkonium Chloride Safe in Hand Sanitizer? 

Generally, yes. Benzalkonium chloride is considered safe when used in products like hand sanitizer in the concentrations recommended by the manufacturer. It is an alcohol-free ingredient in hand sanitizers that is a long-lasting bactericide and does not promote antibiotic resistance.Person using hand sanitizer that is placed on the counter

However, as with any product, there is always the potential for allergic reactions. Some people are susceptible to BAC or other chemicals. If you experience any irritation, redness, or swelling after using a  sanitizer that contains BAC, discontinue use and consult a doctor.

The Concentration of Benzalkonium Chloride in Hand Sanitizer 

The amount of BAC in sanitizers can vary depending on the manufacturer. However, most sanitizers that contain BAC have a concentration of between 0.1% and 0.5%.

BAC is considered safe for use in sanitizers at these concentrations. Higher concentrations may be more effective at killing germs. However, they can also be more irritating to the skin and also have a greater potential to cause allergic reactions.

It is vital to always read the label of any sanitizer to make sure that it contains the right concentration of alcohol and other ingredients that do not reduce its efficacy.

How Does Benzalkonium Chloride Work?

Benzalkonium Chloride (BAC) is a germicide and works by denaturing proteins and disrupting cell membranes. This makes it an effective against bacteria, germs, and fungi. When it comes in contact with these organisms, it destroys their cell walls and nucleic acids.

BAC is considered a cationic quaternary ammonium compound. This means it has a positive charge and is attracted to negative charges. Therefore, when BAC comes in contact with organisms like bacteria, it electrostatically binds to their cell membranes. This disrupts the cell membrane, causing the cell’s contents to leak out. This process is called lysis.Person holding a hand sanitizer

This disrupts the viral envelope, causing the virus to be unable to infect cells. BAC is considered a broad-spectrum disinfectant because it is effective against a wide range of microorganisms.

What Makes Benzalkonium Chloride Effective?

You don’t want just any old BAC; you want an effective one that will actually kill the germs. Here are a few things to look for:

The Right Concentration

The concentration of BAC should be between 0.1% and 0.15%. If the concentration is too low, it won’t be effective against all types of microorganisms. On the other hand, if the concentration is too high, it can be toxic to humans.

The Right pH

The pH of BAC should be between four and 10. This is the optimal range for BAC to be effective against microorganisms. This will also help prevent skin irritation and help the BAC be more stable.


You want a BAC that is stable and won’t degrade over time. You don’t want a BAC that will lose its efficacy over time or be toxic to humans, and you also want to make sure it is effective against a broad range of microorganisms.

The Right Formulation

The product should be aqueous, meaning it should be dissolved in water. Other formulations can be just as effective, and some may even be more effective; however, they can also be more toxic to humans.

What Are the Side Effects of Benzalkonium Chloride?

Like any other chemical, BAC can cause side effects that may be mild or severe. The following are some of the most common side effects and what you can do if you experience them:Person spraying hand sanitizer in the air

  • Skin irritation: Some people are prone to skin irritation when they use BAC products. If you experience this, stop using the product and wash the area with soap and water. If the irritation persists, see a doctor.
  • Eye irritation: BAC can also cause eye irritation. If you get BAC products in your eyes, rinse them with water for 15 minutes. If the irritation persists, see a doctor.
  • Respiratory tract irritation: BAC can also cause respiratory tract irritation when it is inhaled. If you experience this, stop using the product and move to an area with fresh air.
  • Toxic effects: BAC can be toxic if it is ingested or if it comes in contact with mucous membranes. Therefore, ensure you don’t ingest BAC products and avoid contact with mucous membranes.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are There Side Effects of a Sanitizer?

There are potential side effects associated with sanitizers, such as skin irritation, eye irritation, and respiratory tract irritation. However, these side effects are typically mild and go away on their own. In rare cases, sanitizer can be toxic if it is ingested or if it comes in contact with mucous membranes.

Can You Die From Eating Sanitizer?

Hand sanitizer is typically not deadly if ingested in small amounts. However, ingesting large amounts of sanitizer can be toxic and potentially fatal. Call poison control immediately if you or someone you know has ingested a sanitizer.

Is Hand Sanitizer Flammable?

Yes, hand sanitizer is flammable. Therefore, it is essential to store sanitizer in a cool, dry place away from any heat sources. Do not leave sanitizer in direct sunlight or in a car for extended periods.


BAC is a safe and effective disinfectant when used as directed. All you need to do is make sure you choose a product with the right concentration and formulation to ensure it is effective against a broad range of microorganisms. This way, you can use hand sanitizer without worry.