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Hand Sanitizer Vs Alcohol-Based Hand Rubs: What should you use to sanitize your hands?

What should you use to sanitize your hands?sanitize your hands

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, people seldom worried about hand sanitization. As the novel coronavirus spread its viscous fangs around the world, the weapons of its destruction were rare. One of the best ways to fight back was hand sanitization. In the war against the novel coronavirus where PPE like respirators & hand gloves played a crucial role of acting as a shield, the weapon of virus destruction was hand sanitization. Now, the question arises, how to sanitize your hands? What should you use? This article sheds light on these questions. Let’s find out how to sanitize your hands! 

Why is Hand Sanitization necessary? What should you use to sanitize your hands?

Simply put, if you sanitize your hands, you stay safe. Consider it a weapon that empowers an individual to destroy the pesky pathogens lurking on your hands, waiting for an entry into your body. During the COVID-19 pandemic, one such weapon became abundant. Hand sanitizer, which was more or less a seldomly used commodity that became a necessity. There isn’t even a speck of doubt that the little bottle of hand sanitizer can single-handedly destroy a bunch of dangerous micro-organisms which would have otherwise harmed the human body. A bifurcation of hand sanitizers is Alcohol-based hand rubs. 

How to sanitize your hands

Even if we talk about Healthcare-associated infections (also known as HAIs), there are nearly 2 million cases each year. It has been estimated that about one-third of the HAIs can be avoided by just following proper hand hygiene. One can understand the trust bestowed on hand sanitizers, especially the alcohol-based hand rubs that people always carried with them and used often. 

The Hero of the Pandemic -

During the COVID-19 pandemic, when there was a shortage of PPE kits & N95 respirators, alcohol-based hand rubs were the saviors. Remember that these PPE kits & N95 respirators only shield against the pathogens, but hand sanitizers take a step ahead and obliterate the pathogens.

How to choose the best hand sanitizer?

Alcohol-based Hand sanitizer used to sanitize your hands

Alcohol-based hand rubs are your best bet, but what are the other alternatives? Hand hygiene is vital to keep one healthy, safe, and sound. Thus, the decision of ‘How to sanitize your hands?’ becomes crucial. One must note that the CDC has recommended that washing hands with soap & water is the best alternative. Other alternatives like hand sanitizers must be employed when the best isn’t available. Nonetheless, if you’re opting for alcohol-based hand rubs, then go through the following guidelines.

When should you not use alcohol-based hand rubs?

  • Alcohol-based hand rubs should be used only when your hands are not soiled. If the hands are visibly soiled, then wash your hands with soap & water. 
  • There should be no cuts, scratches, or tears on the hands.
  • They don’t eliminate certain types of pathogens. So, when directed, avoid using them.
  • They should be avoided when dealing with certain chemicals like pesticides.
  • Avoid using them when there is a risk of dealing with concentrated chemicals & heavy metals.

What factors should one consider before buying alcohol-based hand rubs?

  • Dermal allergies  
  • Cost
  • Brand
  • Aesthetics (For example, fragrance & color)
  • Ease of use
  • Performance & added benefits
  • Composition of hand rubs

What are the benefits of using alcohol-based hand rubs?

  • Effectively & quickly kills pathogens.
  • It can destroy several types of pathogens. 
  • Self-drying (it doesn’t require any towel or tissue paper).
  • Easily accessible for use.
  • It mostly doesn’t cause any skin irritation. 
  • Most alcohol-based hand rubs have added moisturizers.
  • It has excellent antimicrobial activity (especially against gram-positive & gram-negative vegetative bacteria and enveloped viruses). 


sanitize your hands

Alcohol-based hand rubs are considered non-prescription drugs by the FDA. So, it is recommended to go through the label for any precautions or warnings. For more details, check out how to use hand sanitizers safely!

How to use alcohol-based hand rubs?

  • Apply the alcohol-based hand rubs on the palm.
  • Use a pea-sized amount (check the label to know the same) which would be enough to cover the hand.
  • Before rubbing, remove jewelry, if any.
  • Ensure that you rub it well. Firstly, palm to palm, then rub the back of the hands followed by between the fingers. 
  • Rub the hands together such that you cover every corner of the hand along with the fingers. Ensure that the nails have been rubbed as well by pressing the fingertips on the opposite palms while rubbing.
  • Continue rubbing till it gets completely absorbed. This should take nearly 20 to 30 seconds.
  • Wait until it dries out.

Note - 

  • For alcohol-based hand rubs, the concentration of alcohol should be 60 to 90%.
  • Follow all the guidelines & precautions mentioned on the label of the alcohol-based hand rubs. 
  • Alcohol is highly flammable. Handle with care.

  • Interested ones can check out our article on the working and types of hand sanitizers.

    What other options does one have apart from alcohol-based hand rubs?

    Hand sanitizer used to sanitize your hands

    According to the FDA, hand sanitizer can only contain any of the following three active ingredients:

    1. Ethanol
    2. Isopropyl alcohol or rubbing alcohol
    3. Benzalkonium chloride

    It is interesting to note that Benzalkonium chloride is the only non-alcoholic active ingredient. So, apart from the alcohol-based hand rubs, hand sanitizers with Benzalkonium chloride are your best bet. It is a chemical compound used as an active ingredient at a concentration of 0.13%. In some cases, benzalkonium chloride has clinically proven that it eliminates a few pathogens better than alcohol-based hand rubs. According to the CDC, these hand sanitizers are good at restricting the growth of pathogens. They are not good at destroying them.


    In the market, there are various types of hand sanitizers & hand rubs that are available to choose from. While picking the right one starts with the simple step of looking for an FDA approval, it is followed by looking for the correct active ingredient. You can also check out our detailed article on hand sanitizers to know more. Your best bet would be using alcohol-based hand rubs as they are known to eliminate a wide range of pathogens, provided handwash with soap & water is not possible.