How Do Hand Sanitizers Kill Germs? | Muse Health

Health     Hand Sanitizer   COVID-19    

Hand sanitizers offer one option for minimizing germs. They're useful to carry around in little bottles, take camping, and use when you don't have somewhere to wash your hands. Hand sanitizer dispensers are often installed in hospitals, care homes, and other places where maintaining hygiene is important. This year, sales of hand sanitizer have increased due to COVID-19, and we've seen it crop up in many other establishments, from restaurants to stores. But how does hand sanitizer work? How does it kill germs, and how effective is it? Let's take a look at what exactly hand sanitizers do, when to use them, and how you can make sure you're using them in the most effective way.

applying hand sanitizer to hands

What Hand Sanitizers Do

The way that hand sanitizers work is fairly simple to understand. Hand sanitizers contain alcohol - either ethyl alcohol or isopropyl alcohol - which destroys disease-causing pathogens. The alcohol works to break apart proteins or split cells into pieces, or has an effect on the cell's metabolism. When there is more alcohol in the hand sanitizer, it is able to kill more germ. While solutions that are as little as 30% alcohol can kill some germs, it's recommended by authorities such as the CDC that hand sanitizers should have at least 60% alcohol to be most effective.

Hand sanitizer has even been shown to be better than hand washing at getting rid of some germs. A 2014 review found that ethanol in high concentrations is better at getting rid of Escherichia coli (E.coli), Serratia marcescens and Staphylococcus saprophyticus compared to washing hands using regular or antibacterial soap.

washing your hands

What Hand Sanitizers Don't Do

Although hand sanitizers can help to kill germs, they can't do everything. There are times when washing your hands with soap and water is better than using hand sanitizer. Hand sanitizer does kill germs, but it doesn't wash your hands. Washing your hands removes germs through scrubbing and rinsing them off. Washing your hands is also better if your hands are visibly dirty. Hand sanitizer isn't going to get dirt out from underneath your fingernails. Although it can kill many germs, hand sanitizer is not as effective at dealing with some germs, including some germs that cause diarrhea, such as norovirus.

guy applying hand sanitizer

When to Use Hand Sanitizer

There are many times when it's appropriate to use hand sanitizer. For the most part, using hand sanitizer is a backup for when you are not able to wash your hands. You can carry some with you and use it when you need it. However, it can be useful in a number of other situations too. Hand sanitizer is recommended when you visit someone in a hospital or in a nursing home. It helps to prevent the spread of germs and keep vulnerable people safe. That's why you'll often find hand sanitizer dispensers in these places.

Of course, you will also have noticed that many stores, restaurants and other establishments have recently introduced hand sanitizer dispensers to help prevent COVID-19. These are useful too, as you can't wash your hands as you enter and leave a store. Some of these places may have bathrooms too, so make sure to wash your hands when you're able to.

thinking man

How Do You Use Hand Sanitizers Effectively?

For hand sanitizer to be effective, you need to use it correctly. Just like with washing your hands, you won't do a very efficient job if you rush it and don't pay attention. Firstly, you need to make sure you have a hand sanitizer that is at least 60% alcohol. Once you have the right hand sanitizer, follow these steps:

  1. Apply the recommended amount of hand sanitizer - you should have enough to cover the palms and backs of both of your hands. It's better to have a little too much than not enough!
  2. Distribute the hand sanitizer all over both of your hands. Don't just rub your palms together. Get it over the backs and sides of your hands, between your fingers, and across your fingertips too.
  3. Keep rubbing the sanitizer across your hands until they are dry. Don't wipe off your hands to dry them, or you'll rub off the sanitizer and won't be able to work effectively.

You should spend about 20 seconds distributing hand sanitizer over your hands. That's the same amount of time you should be washing your hands with soap and water. In fact, the process should look similar, except that you're rubbing hand sanitizer over your hands and not soap.

child with puppy and kitten

Hand Sanitizer Safety

When you're using hand sanitizer, it's also important to use it safely. Keep it away from children and pets, who both might be tempted to eat or drink it. It's toxic when ingested and can cause a number of issues. In addition to this, the recent increased sales and production of hand sanitizer has led to some products testing positive for methanol. Methanol is another type of alcohol that should not be used in hand sanitizer, and it can cause serious illness or even death. You can find a list of the brands that have tested positive for methanol (and those made by the same manufacturers) on the FDA website.

Another thing worth keeping in mind is that hand sanitizer is flammable. It doesn't present a very high risk for fire, but it's a good idea to store it safely (especially in large amounts) and dispose of it safely.

choosing the right hand sanitizer

Buying the right sanitizer will ensure you have a product that's effective and also meets your needs. It should have at least 60% alcohol to kill germs effectively, but what else should you look for? Many people find that hand sanitizer dries out their hands due to the alcohol. However, products like Muse Health give you the best of both worlds, helping to kill germs without drying out your hands.

Carrying hand sanitizer wherever you go means that you can always get rid of germs on your hands in a pinch. When used in the right way, it will effectively kill the germs.