What Type of Hand Sanitizer Works Best?

Hand holding a sanitizer

Hand sanitizers are repeatedly endorsed as being very effective against various germs. Scientists have also encouraged us to adopt a proper hand hygiene regime, including regular hand washing with soap and water, to combat the coronavirus and prevent the spread of germs. Consequently, you may be wondering: what type of hand sanitizer works best?  

What Type of Hand Sanitizer Works Best? 

The hand sanitizers that work best against numerous harmful germs and bacteria have an active ingredient, which functions as a disinfectant to combat germs. It can be either a form of alcohol or benzalkonium chloride, depending on the type of hand sanitizer. Both these agents have incredible efficacy and the ability to kill pathogens. Little boy spraying hand sanitizer on his hands

However, not all kinds of alcohol are safe to use. Many different sanitizer manufacturers started substituting approved active agents with harmful chemicals, to meet the increasing demands of hand sanitizers. Below we elaborate on the components that are safe for topical use, as well as the ingredients that should be avoided. 

What Are the Different Types of Hand Sanitizers?

There are two broad categories of hand sanitizers approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). These include sanitizers formulated with either alcohol or benzalkonium chloride. 

Alcohol-Based Hand Sanitizers

Alcohol-based hand sanitizers contain either ethyl alcohol or isopropyl alcohol. Ethanol or ethyl alcohol is the most common alcohol used in hand sanitizers, followed by isopropyl alcohol. They are both safe to use on your skin without leading to any adverse health effects.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends using a sanitizer with an alcohol concentration of at least 60% for it to work effectively. As the percentage increases, the efficiency of the sanitizer also improves. However, hand sanitizers cannot replace hand washing, regardless of the concentration levels.

Alcohol-Free Hand Sanitizers

Alcohol-free hand sanitizers contain benzalkonium chloride, which is able to reduce the number of pathogens even at a low concentration of 0.13%. Hand sanitizers made without alcohol are especially useful for individuals who have sensitive skin or suffer from an allergic reaction or irritation from alcohol.

Difference Between Alcohol-Based And Alcohol-Free Sanitizers

Apart from having different active ingredients, there are only a few differences between the two types of hand sanitizers. Hand holding a sanitizer

Due to the absence of any types of alcohol, non-alcohol-based hand sanitizers are usually not toxic. However, it is always encouraged to read the labels and know the ingredients used in the formula before applying the products. 

In addition, these kinds of sanitizers are mostly formulated as foam while alcohol-based ones are available as gel, foam, and liquid. 

Which Hand Sanitizers Are Not Safe?

Not all alcohol-based sanitizers are safe to use. In fact, there are a few varieties of alcohol that are extremely toxic for human beings. These include:


Methanol, also known as wood alcohol, was found in numerous hand sanitizers that are placed on the FDA list of hand sanitizers that are best avoided. Methanol can cause methanol poisoning if ingested, which can eventually result in blindness and even death. Children are even more susceptible to the effects of methanol.


Another less common, yet equally toxic, alcohol found in a few hand sanitizers is 1-propanol. Consuming this alcohol can cause central nervous system depression and death. It can also lead to severe skin conditions, such as rashes, irritation, or burns, when applied to the skin.

How to Use Hand Sanitizer Correctly

In addition to using the right kind of hand sanitizer, you need to make sure that you are using it properly, for it to deliver its result. Follow these steps for optimum effectiveness:

  1. Take a pump or two of the hand sanitizer in your palm.
  2. Apply it all over your hands to coat all surfaces, including the skin between your fingers and your fingernails.
  3. Rub your hands for at least 20 seconds.
  4. Allow the hand sanitizer to air dry instead of wiping or rinsing it off.

Following these steps meticulously allows the solution to target the maximum number of germs. But remember, washing hands with soap and water still triumphs over the efficacy of hand sanitizing.   Woman applying sanitizer for her boyfriend

When Should You Not Use Hand Sanitizer?

As effective as they are, hand sanitizers are not reliable in every situation. In these cases, a good old hand washing should be your best option for cleaning your hands adequately. These include:

  • When your hands are visibly dirty.
  • When your hands are greasy or soiled, especially after engaging in outdoor sports or working at a construction site.
  • When your hands have traces of harmful chemicals such as pesticides or heavy metals.

Hand sanitizers should always be used in tandem with soap and water, instead of a replacement to ensure disease control and to prevent yourself from getting infected. Moreover, there are a few occasions when you should use soap and water to prevent yourself from getting sick: 

  • After using a bathroom, helping a child clean themselves in the toilet, or changing a diaper
  • Before and after preparing and eating food
  • Before and after tending to someone who is sick with vomiting and/or diarrhea
  • After blowing your nose, or coughing or sneezing in your hands
  • After handling pet food or touching an animal
  • After touching a trash can

Related Questions

Is Hand Sanitizer Effective Against Covid-19?

Hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol is a safe, fast, and effective way to eliminate Covid-19. However, it only works if it is applied properly, following the above-mentioned guidelines. Moreover, if you have the option, prioritize washing your hands with soap and water over a sanitizer.

Do alcohol-free Hand Sanitizers kill coronavirus?

Unfortunately, no OTC alcohol-free hand sanitizers brand can make a claim against any pathogen, including the coronavirus. It is not permitted by the FDA. 


Before using a hand sanitizer, check the ingredients at the back of the bottle. Sanitizers with either ethanol (ethyl alcohol), isopropyl alcohol, or benzalkonium chloride are safe to use. If the ingredient list mentions methanol or 1-propanol, discard the solution safely and immediately.

Using the hand sanitizer correctly is the key to its efficacy. Finally, CDC recommends washing hands regularly, along with the use of hand sanitizers for optimal hand hygiene, and disease control and prevention.