Do Alcohol Hand Sanitizers Really Work?

Waterless or alcohol hand sanitizers are ubiquitous, but do they actually kill germs like MRSA?

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Although most hand gels claim to kill 99.9% of harmful germs and bacteria, hand sanitizers with less than 60% ethyl or isopropyl alcohol are not effective. In fact, using an alcohol sanitizer with only 40% alcohol might not reduce bacteria on your hands at all. For example, to kill Staph aureus, the bacteria responsible for MRSA (methicillin resistant staph aureus) infections, you must use a sanitizer with at least 62% alcohol.

  • Use a hand gel with between 62% and 95% ethyl alcohol (higher than 95% alcohol might ironically be less effective).
  • Rub it vigorously into your hands, including in between your fingers and along your nails, until the gel has dried.
  • How much gel should you use? Enough to keep rubbing for 20 seconds without drying completely. If the alcohol evaporates in less than 15 seconds, then you’re not using enough.

You should also use it after:

  • sneezing, blowing your nose, or coughing
  • using shopping carts
  • going to the gym
  • using public computers, telephones, or ATMs
  • handling a baby diaper or toys
  • playing with small children or attending places such as parks and jungle gyms
  • coming in contact with animals, including your own beloved Fluffy
  • before seeing your next patient (this one’s for me)

Oh, and can you really set your hands on fire by using an alcohol sanitizer? This was a hoax. In reality, it would be very unlikely.

Post written by Jeffrey Benabio, MD

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Photo credit: YW Lim

14 thoughts on “Do Alcohol Hand Sanitizers Really Work?

  1. Hi, i was wondering if you could please supply a reference for this piece on alchol hand gels, i am writing an essay and trying to find if they really, work, this info is useful but i need to be able to include a reference? Thank You

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  3. I enjoyed the knowledge I gained about the 62% ethyl alcohol to REALLY fight off bacteria, fungi and other things. FYI: I am using it on my over oil producing acne face…today is day 1. Since nothing else worked I have to try this! In 24 hours I really like the results.

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  6. Sanitizers should be used in order to prevent germs.Every time before we eat or cook we should use hand sanitizer to prevent infection.We should practice the kids to use sanitizer

  7. Alcohol based sanitizer is more effective in reducing the spread of all viruses. I think alcohol-based hand sanitizers on encouraging people to have better hygiene. The main ingredient of alcohol-based hand sanitizers is ethyl alcohol that have been used medically as a natural antiseptic for hundreds of years because it is very effective and safe.

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