Is Benzalkonium Chloride Safe in Hand Sanitizer 

Variety in products gives consumers lifestyle choices. For example, some products contain caffeine while others are decaffeinated, providing alternatives to individuals with heart health conditions. Food experts also formulate products with sugar alternatives that allow more lifestyle choices.

The same is true with another aspect of health – sanitizing hand rubs – that prevent the spread of illness-causing germs in the absence of soap and warm running water. Consumers can choose from three types of sanitizing hand rubs that protect people from spreading harmful germs.

Alcohol-Free is a Conscious Choice

Of the active ingredients in hand sanitizers, there are only three allowed active ingredients. One is alcohol-free, and two are alcohol-based.

An alcohol-free sanitizing hand rub is an alternative solution with many benefits for consumers, institutions, and countries that consciously abstain from alcohol use or that choose to avoid the potential risk associated with alcohol.

The lesser talked-about active ingredient in sanitizing hand rubs is alcohol-free benzalkonium chloride (BZK). Quaternary ammonium compounds (QACs) such as BZK are classified as organic salts, although QACs can also be synthesized. QACs are used for powerful, long-lasting germ-fighting protection throughout many industries.

Whether consumers are aware or not, QACs are formulated into everyday use products. Examples range from shampoos to detergents and anti-static laundry treatments. Also, the gentleness of products developed with QACs is evident in products such as eye drops to baby wipes. For decades, the food processing industry has relied upon the power to clean and sanitize with QACs as biocidal agents.

In 2020, the science community issued multiple research reports supporting QACs as germ-fighters in healthcare environments. Products containing QACs top the government’s list of materials for restoring businesses and institutions amid the ongoing health crisis. Any prior references stating insufficient research on QACs for germ-fighting is now outdated.

The oath of “do no harm” applies to physicians, healthcare workers, and companies that make products to support the wellbeing of people. And this includes makers of sanitizing hand rub products that are technically over-the-counter drugs available without a prescription.

GH Alcohol-based sanitizer

Alcohol Controversy

Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are controversial. Two-thirds of the approved active ingredients in hand sanitizers are alcohol, and the government’s recommendations are to use anywhere between 60-95% alcohol content in hand sanitizers for addressing COVID-19.

Alcohol absorption does not discriminate by age. It absorbs through the skin and increases blood alcohol levels, sometimes with legal consequences. For children and youth whose livers are developing, alcohol absorption by the skin is a severe health risk.

The government considers beverages containing ethanol alcohol as a controlled substance available only to adults over 21. Yet, ethanol and isopropyl-based hand sanitizers are available without a prescription over-the-counter practically everywhere.

Although government mandates for K-12 school campuses require open access to at least 60% alcohol-based sanitizing hand rub products, it is vital to note that poison control centers report accidental ingestions occurring at K-12 schools.

When COVID-19 emerged two years ago, a short supply of hand sanitizers exacerbated the global health crisis. Consumers raced to stock up on sanitizing products, leaving retail shelves barren. The lack of availability caused a supply problem for healthcare workers and consumers.

As a result, the Food and Drug Administration allowed 1,500 companies to temporarily produce ethanol-based alcohol hand sanitizers – and that is when the dirty truth about alcohol-based hand sanitizers emerged.

Lack of detail in manufacturing processes produced hundreds of contaminated products that entered the supply chain. Some tested products failed to contain adequate levels of active ingredients. After these products were flagged as contaminated or inadequate, the information was made public.

Adding to the controversy are these facts:

  • The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not approve of any antiseptic drug products, including hand sanitizers, to prevent or treat COVID-19.
  • The FDA can issue a warning about a hazardous product yet cannot recall any products.
  • Only the manufacturer that received a product warning by the government can voluntarily recall a product.

Some manufacturers of contaminated alcohol-based hand rubs (ABHR) remain non-responsive to the warnings issued.

For consumers, this means that highly toxic products are still in the global supply chain. It is a consumer’s responsibility to research products before purchase. By referencing the government’s list of products to avoid, consumers can be aware of the potential risks lurking in hand sanitizers.

The majority of these contaminated products include ethanol alcohol. Recently, the FDA rescinded the temporary authorization to manufacture sanitizing hand rubs.

Hand sanitizers have a shelf life between two to three years. Until the supply chain is free of contaminated products, toxic sanitizing hand rubs are still available online and in retail stores.

Amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many news headlines made the message clear; alcohol-based hand sanitizers can present a serious health risk.

Some of the news headlines warning consumers of the potential risks with alcohol-based hand sanitizers include:

  • Grandmother warns parents about hand sanitizer packaging – An 18-month-old toddler accidentally ingested alcohol-based hand rub from a pouch that resembled a food snack product.
  • What to Do If You Get Hand Sanitizer in Your Eyes – Misuse of alcohol-based sanitizing rubs by adults and children, whether accidental or intentional, resulted in severe eye irritation that triggered medical guidance to the public. Side effects include sharp pain, swelling, and damage to the eye’s outer layer (cornea).
  • People are dying after drinking alcohol-based hand sanitizer, CDC says – The contaminant methanol found in ethanol-based ABHR blinds and kills adults.
  • COVID-19: Hand Sanitizer Poisonings Soar, Psych Patients at High Risk – A post-mortem analysis of a hospital patient revealed a high level of alcohol (214 mg of alcohol in 100 mL of blood). The combination of prescription medications and ingesting ABHR from a wall dispenser suppressed the patient’s breathing, leading to death.
  • Hand Sanitizer Catches Fire on Texas Mom, Severely Burning 18% of Her Body — Including Her Face – Alcohol is flammable, has a flashpoint of 63 degrees Fahrenheit, and can have dangerous consequences. Its use near a candle flame resulted in the fire in this instance.

For product suppliers, alcohol-based hand rubs carry a burden. Storing more than five gallons requires sprinkler systems that adhere to fire codes.

Avoiding potentially contaminated products and associated risks can mean abstaining from ABHR products altogether.

It is essential to mention that alcohol-free benzalkonium chloride is non-flammable and non-addictive.

So, since all types of sanitizing hand rubs neutralize harmful germs effectively, deciding which type to use should be based on how the active ingredient works, how long it lasts, and if any side effects exist.


How do hand sanitizers work?

Whether hand washing with soap and water or using a sanitizing hand rub, the mechanical action of rubbing for at least 20-seconds disrupts a germ’s outer cell layer.

How long do hand sanitizers last?

The CDC recommends washing hands with soap and warm running water for 20-seconds as the primary way to address harmful germs. However, after germs are washed away, the exposed skin remains unprotected from germs.

Not widely publicized about alcohol-based hand rubs is their effective period of only 20-seconds while the product remains wet on the skin. Meaning that continually protecting hands from germs, one must reapply ABHR every 20-seconds. ABHR overuse results in dry, irritated, cracked skin and increased alcohol levels in the bloodstream.

The contrasting nature of long-lasting alcohol-free benzalkonium chloride is its ability to prevent harmful germs on contact for up to 4-hours per application.

Are there side effects with hand sanitizers?

People can be sensitive to environmental irritants, soaps, and detergents. As with any topical product, if a rash develops, it is wise to stop using it.

Scientifically Formulated Alcohol-Free Hand Sanitizers

Science made a breakthrough, based on magnetism, with the mode of action in advanced alcohol-free hand sanitizers. Most illness-causing germs carry a negative electrical charge. By invoking a magnetic change to a germ’s outer cell wall and changing its polarity, the electrical charge transforms from a negative to a positive. Afterward, the germ cell wall ruptures, leading to its demise.

In scientifically formulated hand sanitizers, this mode of action remains for up to 4-hours giving consumers lifestyle freedom and persistent peace of mind.

Additional attributes of advanced alcohol-free hand sanitizers that contain benzalkonium chloride include:

  • Non-toxic to people and the environment
  • Water-based, no sting solutions
  • Non-flammable requiring no special bulk quantity storage
  • Non-damaging to skin or fabrics
  • Moisturizing with natural aloe vera
  • Convenient travel-sized individual use
  • Stationary wall and desktop dispensers
  • Softens skin with repeated use

For good hand hygiene, the CDC recommends selecting a sanitizing hand rub in the absence of soap and warm running water. Especially for child and youth safety, alcohol-free hand sanitizers are a safer choice.

While the government still recommends traditional alcohol-based hand rubs, considering the benefits of alcohol-free hand sanitizer, the answer is yes to the question, “Is benzalkonium chloride safe in hand sanitizer?”

Also, when it comes to safety and the open availability of hand sanitizers in public spaces, a longer-lasting product means less material use, which translates to cost savings for retailers and institutions.

“Do no harm” is the basis for health products.

Benzalkonium chloride shines a light on a safer alternative to traditional toxic chemicals; alcohol-free hand sanitizer ensures public safety.