What to know about ethanol hand sanitizer

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What is Sanitizer?Sanitizer, also known as hand sanitizer, is an oil or gel designed to eliminate bacteria and germs on the hands when water and soap aren’t readily available. It usually contains alcohol which is the main ingredient that kills bacteria and germs.

In this blog, we will take a look at why hand sanitizers contain ethanol and its effectiveness as an ingredient.

We also look at how to choose the best hand sanitizer and some tips on how to use it.

What exactly is it?

Alcohol-based hand sanitizers have a certain amount of the active ingredient ethyl alcohol (also called ethanol) or isopropyl alcohol. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have stated that hand sanitizers must contain atleast 60% alcohol.

Ethanol is a colorless, clear liquid with a strong taste.

Ethanol is an ingredient in solvents and cleaning products. You can also use it as an antiseptic which is sometimes referred to as rubbing alcohol.

At certain concentrations, ethanol can kill various kinds of viruses and bacteria. This makes it a potent component in a variety of hand sanitizers.

Ethanol is a highly flammable liquid, and its high concentrations can cause alcohol poisoning if people consume it. The continued use of ethanol-based products on the skin may cause irritation or dry skin.

How effective is it?

The CDC mentions that ethanol has antimicrobial properties. Ethanol helps to break down the structure of the proteins of bacteria.

Research has shown that ethanol can provide antimicrobial benefits against bacteria like E. coli and Staphylococcus aureus. Ethanol is also effective against salmonella typhi, which is the cause of typhoid fever.

Concentrations of 60 to 80 percent ethanol have proven effective against various viruses, such as herpes, rhinovirus and influenza.

The antimicrobial qualities of ethanol are enhanced with a mix of ethanol and water, which makes hand sanitizers much more effective than pure ethanol in killing bacteria.

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Hand sanitizers that contain isopropyl alcohol are also effective and function in a similar manner like ethanol to kill viruses and bacteria. Isopropyl alcohol can be found in products such as isopropanol or 2-propanol.

The CDC mentions that isopropyl Alcohol can be slightly better at eliminating E. coli and Staphylococcus aureus bacteria than ethanol.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) suggests that consumers use a hand sanitizer containing ethyl alcohol or isopropyl alcohol.

Against COVID-19

COVID-19 occurs due to infection with severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2(SARS-CoV-2).

The FDA has not approved any type of hand sanitizer to prevent or treat COVID-19.

The CDC advises that the best method to prevent the spread of the virus, like SARS-CoV-2, is by washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

But, if someone is not able to clean their hands, they can ensure proper sanitation by using the best sanitizer in India. There are various options available in the market, ranging from alcohol-based hand sanitizers to non-alcohol-based sanitizers.

Versus non-ethanol hand sanitizers

The CDC does not advise people to use hand sanitizers that don’t contain atleast 60 percent alcohol. This is due to the fact that alcohol-free hand sanitizers aren’t likely to work as well.

Also, some hand sanitizers may contain benzalkonium chloride. The CDC states that evidence shows that it’s not as effective against viruses and bacteria.

How much alcohol should it contain?

According to the CDC, hand sanitizer must have atleast 60% alcohol to be effective.

Research has proven that alcohol concentrations of less than 60% aren’t enough to kill germs. They may reduce the growth of germs rather than eliminating them.

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Hand sanitizers that contain less than 40% alcohol might not be effective in killing different kinds of bacteria and viruses compared to higher concentrations.

Ethanol is most effective in concentrations between 60–95%.

How to choose

You can look for the following when choosing an effective hand sanitizer:

  • an alcohol percentage of 60% or above
  • Ethyl alcohol, also known as ethanol, listed in the ingredients
  • hand sanitizers containing isopropanol or 2-propanol in the ingredients

If a hand sanitizer just mentions “alcohol” in the ingredients list, it refers to alcohol.

What to avoid


The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced recalls of several hand sanitizers because of the potential presence of methanol.

Methanol is a poisonous alcohol that has negative effects, like headache, vomiting, or nausea, if a large amount is applied to the skin. More serious consequences like seizures, blindness, or damage to the nervous system can occur if methanol is consumed. Drinking hand sanitizers containing methanol, either accidentally or deliberately, can cause death.

If you bought any hand sanitizer containing methanol, stop using it immediately. Return it to the shop where you bought it, if possible. You should consult your physician if you have experienced any adverse reactions from using it. If you are experiencing life-threatening symptoms, contact medical emergency services immediately.

A person should avoid:

  • Using any hand sanitizer that does not contain 60% ethyl alcohol or isopropyl alcohol
  • Using any hand sanitizer that is listed on the FDA’s list of hand sanitizers people should not use
  • Using any hand sanitizer that contains 1-propanol or methanol mentioned in the ingredients
  • Purchasing any hand sanitizer that comes in packaging similar to any food or drink item, as hand sanitizer is poisonous to ingest
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In addition, it is recommended not to make hand sanitizers at home.

How to use?

For ethanol-based hand sanitizer to work effectively, it is recommended to use enough hand sanitizer to cover the whole of both hands. Rub it well over the palms, fingers and backs of the hands.

A person should continue to rub it on their hand until the sanitizer dries by avoiding contact with the mouth and eyes.

If a child is using hand sanitizer, an adult should supervise them while they apply it.

Additionally, people should:

  • Avoid wiping hand sanitizer from the hands before it dries completely, as removing the hand sanitizer before it dries means it might not perform as effectively in eliminating germs.
  • Avoid using hand sanitizer for anything other than washing your hands, like cleaning surfaces, as hand sanitizer isn’t suitable for any other use.
  • Keep hand sanitizer at temperatures below 105°F, and do not store it in places hotter than this, for instance, in a car during hot weather.
  • Beware of putting hand sanitizer in the mouth or swallowing it because ethanol hand sanitizer can cause alcohol poisoning.


Ethanol hand sanitizer contains ethanol or ethyl alcohol. Ethanol is effective in killing various germs and is a common ingredient in antiseptic agents and cleaning products.

According to the CDC, it is recommended that people should use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% ethanol. Non-alcohol hand sanitizers and hand sanitizers with less than 60% alcohol are not effective in killing all types of germs.

Repeated use of topical ethanol products can cause irritation or dryness of the skin.

It is crucial to avoid putting ethanol hand sanitizer near the mouth or eyes.

A person should never swallow hand sanitizer. High concentrations of ethanol can cause alcohol poisoning.

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