Hand Sanitiser

Hand sanitiser is a gel or foam that kills germs and infectious bacteria. It is used as an alternative to hand-washing, and comes in two main varieties, those that are alcohol-based and those which are not. Hand sanitiser is listed on the WHO’s List of Essential Medicines.

In order to apply the product effectively, apply a dollop of hand sanitiser to one hand, and then rub your hands together. Rub over the entire surface of your hands until they are dry.

Alcohol-based hand sanitiser kills many types of viruses by dissolving their fat membranes. It kills bacteria by disrupting its cell membrane. The product also usually contains hydrogen peroxide which kills bacterial spores. While older hand sanitisers were known to dry your hands, newer ones contain gelling agents which dramatically reduce skin dryness.

Most of these hand sanitisers contain a combination of isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol) and ethanol. The percentage of alcohol present in hand sanitiser is key to its efficacy – those with less than 60 per cent alcohol will be less effective at killing microorganisms, and will just reduce their growth.

Hand sanitisers that do not contain alcohol usually contain benzalkonium chloride instead. They kill bacteria by disrupting their membranes, but we still don’t know how effective they are against certain types of viruses. The US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention say this type of hand sanitizer is less reliable for tackling Covid-19 than those which are alcohol-based.