Hand sanitisers usually come in the form of a liquid, gel or foam, they are used to remove or kill disease causing microorganisms or germs. Most health authorities recommend using them when ordinary soap and water is not readily available for washing the hands.

It’s also recommended for use in situations where repeated hand washing using soap’s has compromised the normal skin because of the harsh nature of soap that removes the natural skin oils. Sores, rashes, scaling and fissures can develop as a reaction to soap with some people who have sensitive skin.

Hand sanitisers are commonly used as a means of stopping the spread of infection in a range of applications such as daycare centers, schools, libraries, health care centers, hospitals, dental clinics as well as cruise ships, airports, shopping centers and other public areas.

Hand Sanitiser Classification

Hand sanitisers are usually classified into two broad categories, alcohol based and non-alcohol based

Sanitisers that are alcohol based to be effective should contain between 60% and 95%alcohol by volume, this is usually ethanol (ethyl alcohol), propanol or isopropanol. When a sanitiser contains alcohol in these concentrations it is able to denature proteins immediately on contact. This can effectively neutralize many types of microorganism, especially bacteria, including E coli and MRSA as well as being effective against viruses such as rhinovirus, coronavirus, influenza A virus, hepatitis A virus, MERS-CoV (Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus) and HIV.

The alcohol in the sanitiser attacks and quickly destroys the protein that surrounds and protests many viruses. This protein is also necessary in order for viruses such as the coronavirus to multiply.

A hand sanitiser with less than a 60% alcohol strength is much less effective at killing fungi and bacteria with the effect of only slowing them down rather that completely killing them.

Alcohol free sanitisers are usually disinfectant based using agents such as BAC benzalkonium chloride or with antimicrobial agents like triclosan to kill germs.

Many hand sanitisers contain conditioners such emollients like glycerin to have a soothing effect on the skin as well as fragrances and thickening agents.


There are multiple factors that affect the ability of hand sanitisers to work, these include:

  • The way they are applied, the hands need to be completely covered, including under the nails and between the fingers
  • The amount of organic matter on the hands, they are not a cleaner and lose their effectiveness if the hands are not clean
  • The quantity used, check the directions on the bottle for the required amount to use
  • The frequency of use
  • Whether or not the type of sanitiser is made to be used to eradicate the type of infectious agent present

In general terms, an alcohol based hand sanitiser if used properly and thoroughly for a minimum of 20 seconds (preferably until all the sanitiser is used or dried up), will effectively destroy the populations of most fungi, bacteria and viruses such as the carnivorous.

Non-alcohol based hand sanitisers with  surfactants, allantoin and BAC are usually effective against coronavirus, but often ineffective when used against bacterial spores and norovirus or non-enveloped viruses as well as giardia an encysted parasite.

Hand sanitisers are not cleaners and will not remove dirt or grime unless they include a cleaning agent.

Hand sanitizing products are not as effective as washing the hands with soap and water, but they have been found to help control the spread or transmission of infectious disease in areas where it’s difficult to provide adequate facilities for washing hands with soap and water, such as:

  • School classrooms
  • Movie theaters
  • Entrance ways to malls and shops
  • In the workplace
  • In hospitals and medical centers

In all areas where alcohol based hand sanitisers have been introduced there has been a noticeable increase in hand hygiene and a reduction in transferable diseases.

Safety Concerns

One of the concerns of using non-alcohol based hand sanitisers is the safety issues that relate to some of the chemicals used to kill bacteria. It’s considered that triclosan may interfere with the endocrine system’s function and some antimicrobials and disinfectants can help begin a process of antimicrobial resistance. They also tend to have a long life and are considered detrimental to the environment.

The main issues with alcohol based had sanitisers are their flammability and possibility of intentional and unintentional ingestion

Non-alcohol hand sanitisers are of little use against Clostridium difficile and Cryptosporidium both of which cause diarrhea and bowel problems.

With the event of worldwide coronavirus outbreak there has been a shortage of hand sanitisers and many people have tried to make their own with limited success and the potential for ineffective hand sanitisers.

The most cost effective and best overall hand sanitizing method is to use warm water and mild soap and then use a hand sanitiser if you feel you need more protection.

Hand sanitiser will not remove chemicals or heavy metals from the hands

Mucous is a bodily secretion that acts as a protector for microbes so if you sneeze or cough directly onto your hand a sanitiser may not be effective unless you use a lot of it and rub it well into your skin for 20 seconds and remove the mucous

The benefits of different Sanitisers, foam, sprays, gels and wipes

All types of hand sanitisers if they include an effective active ingredient will be adequate if used properly. Some forms of sanitiser are preferred in different places. Most medical intuitions provide a wide range of different hand sanitizing options available at their point of care areas so that they are easy to use and practical for the needs at hand.

Touch free dispensers are the preferred option, but in many areas this is not practical.

Hand sanitisers with an alcohol content above 60% regardless of their form will provide protection, but some are more suited for different applications and sometimes a non–alcohol based hand sanitiser if a better option.

Foam Hand Sanitiser

Often a foam hand sanitiser is the most cost effective alternative that can be used in many facilities as it allows for a measured dose to be dispensed and is very easy to hold in the hand without spilling. Foam is easy to use and store, when dispensed it expands increasing its usability.

Non-alcohol foam sanitiser is often preferred in schools because it’s relatively safe, less messy, economical and kids like using it. The hospitality industry also tends to prefer providing foam sanitisors for its guests

Gel Hand Sanitiser

Most medical facilities use an alcohol based gel as this has proven to provide the best coverage to a person’s skin. Gel can be quickly applied and evenly spread around

Spray Hand Sanitisers

These are most often used at hygiene control points such as entrances to sports events, shops and malls where each visitor is required to have their hands sprayed with a hand sanitiser

Sanitised Wipes

The advantage of using a sanitised hand wipe is that they create some friction which helps to dislodge dirt, grime and oils that the bacteria could cling to. The effectiveness of wipes depends on their size relative to your hands and the condition of the sanitizing agent they are covered with.

Health clubs, food stores and many businesses offer alcohol based wipes to their customers because the help to remove light soiling as they sanitise.

It’s important not to use sanitised wipes to clean such things as your smart phone or other delicate electrical devices as the active ingredients on the wipes can damage the plastic surface. You should follow the manufacturer’s direction on the best way to clean and sanitise any of your electrical or communication devices.

The overall key to having people sanitise their hands is to make it convenient and easy for them to gain access to the sanitisor, with adequate locations and supplies always available.

There are many people who suggest you need to sanitise everything, but there is no need to sanitise anything in your home or your personal property if you are sure that no one apart from yourself and those you are sharing your immediate environment with has touched, breathed, sneezed or coughed on or around it.

Never reuse sanitary wipes or disposable items such as face masks and gloves.


There are many different types of hand sanitisers available for you to choose from, the most important factor to look for is the ingredients it’s made from. If possible use a hand sanitiser with an alcohol content of more than 60% and if you have decided to use a non-alcohol based sanitiser read the label carefully to ensure you know what the active ingredients are.

Always use hand sanitisers on clean hands as they are not very effective on oily, greasy or soiled hands and dispose of any towels or sanitary wipes properly.