How Does Hand Sanitizer Work?

For many years people used soap and other products to clean their hands and other parts of the body. It wasn’t common to hear the term “hand sanitizer.” Most people just lived with the idea that water and soap would keep them sufficiently clean and healthy.

In recent years however, more and more people are using hand sanitizers, even after they have showered and washed their hands. These folks are certainly using the sanitizing products when they are away from their homes, substituting a hand sanitizer “treatment” for washing the hands.

Why Sanitize?

The simple answer might be: to kill germs! That’s the basic reason, of course. Many of the retail products sold as hand sanitizers are effective in killing bacteria and other potential health risks (germs in general). The difference between what sanitizers do and what soap-and-water do is simple. Hand sanitizers kill the germs when they come in contact with the solution. Soap and water lift the germs off the skin and wash them away.

The active ingredient in most hand sanitizers is ethyl alcohol. There are other ingredients like water, a few other types of basic alcohol compounds and some added fragrances (perfumes). Ethyl alcohol must be present in sufficient amounts to have a killing effect. Standards for this amount range from a low of 60 percent of the solution to 95 percent of the solution.

This makes it very important to read the label of over-the-counter products. If the alcohol content is 60 percent or lower, chances are the hand sanitizer won’t have a lot of effect on the germs you are after. It may help to understand the two types of alcohol that can be used to kill bacteria – ethyl alcohol and isopropyl alcohol. These two types are not as effect against viruses as they are against bacteria.

Give Alcohol a Chance

The alcohol works by drawing the moisture out of living organisms such as bacteria. This only occurs as the alcohol evaporates so it is important to leave the sanitizer on your hands for at least 10 minutes to get the full effect. If the hands are dirty or oily, sanitizers won’t work as well. It may help to clean the hands a bit with soap and water to help the hand sanitizer do its work. But if you are in a clean setting, such as at a restaurant, and your hands are clean the hand sanitizer should have some effect in killing germs.

Once you have given the sanitizer time to work, you may want to use a moisturizing lotion. The alcohol content of the best hand sanitizers will dry the skin. It’s important to keep the skin moist with a good quality hand lotion.

We all have bacteria on our hands, good bacteria that our body needs and bad bacteria that may cause problems with our health. Hand sanitizers can have some effect on the lifespan of bacteria and may slow the growth of bacteria when the product is used on a regular basis.

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