Breaking down how hand sanitizers work


With the COVID-19 pandemic that suddenly struck the world, the global public health concern has been placed at top priority with all ruling governments. This has led to significantly immense use of hand disinfectants (sanitizers). In South Africa, a total of 2.5 million hand sanitizers have been reported to be sold from the period March 2020 to June 2020. The emphasis on hand sanitizers is paramount against the fight against this virus, well at least until a vaccine is found.

Components that make up Hand Sanitizers

Hand sanitizer can be classified into two general groups:

  1. Alcohol-based hand sanitizer
  2. Alcohol-free hand sanitizer

The alcohol-based hand sanitizer may contain two or more alcohol mixtures and may also include humectants and excipients. The types of alcohol mostly found in the alcohol-based hand sanitizer are ethanol and isopropanol. There have been reports of hand sanitizers containing methanol which is harmful to humans as it is absorbed by the skin and may cause blindness. Therefore, it is important to be aware of what products you are using. If you have a sanitizer that has methanol, it is still useful to disinfect surfaces. The recommended alcohol concentration should be between 70-90%. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are the most common hand disinfectant in the market. However, there are a few cons with its effectiveness, such as its short-lived antimicrobial effect.

microbial effect
The second type of Hand sanitizer as mentioned above is the alcohol-free hand sanitizer. Instead of using alcohol, this one is produced with chemicals that have antiseptic (preventing the growth of disease-causing microorganisms).

How Hand Sanitizers Work

All hand sanitizers have the primary purpose of destroying microbes (bacteria) and suppressing their growth. Both alcohol-based and alcohol-free hand sanitizers are produced in the forms of gels, foams, and liquids. The hand sanitizer is applied to the hands and each individual must rub their hands for at least 20 seconds thoroughly. It is important to disperse the sanitizer thoroughly on both the front and the back of the hands, as well as between fingers. The hand disinfectant will act quickly to kill the microorganisms and will reduce the bacterial count on hands.

Hand sanitizers are not a cure to the virus but do offer a level of security as they remove the fat around the virus. This fat enables the virus to stick on to the hands. And as a general motion of humans, the hands touch the face around twenty-three times an hour. That is over five hundred times a day. So, if not taken care of, transmission rates will increase. Hand sanitizers have held great importance in the fight against COVID-19.