Breaking Down How Hand Sanitizers Work
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, hand sanitizers have become one of the most desired commodities worldwide. Everyone is looking for them, along with N95 respirators , and for a while, there were shortages in some places. As of now, pharmacies and hospitals are stocked up with hand sanitizers, so there’s no reason to worry.
Today, we are going to discuss everything you need to know about hand sanitizers. You’ll learn how they work, how to use them and if they expire.
Let’s get right into it.
How Do Hand Sanitizers Work?
The essential ingredient in every hand sanitizer is alcohol. Alcohol has organic molecules that are made of carbon, oxygen and hydrogen. When most people think of alcohol, they think about ethanol which is the chemical in alcoholic drinks. The other two common alcohols in disinfectants are propanol and isopropanol because they are highly soluble in water—the same as ethanol.
Alcohols destroy pathogens or disease-causing agents, by breaking apart their proteins, splitting cells into pieces or messing with their metabolism. Hand sanitizers with as little as 30% alcohol can kill pathogens, and their effectiveness increases with the increasing alcohol concentration.
The data shows that alcohol kills a wider variety of bacteria and viruses when the concentration is more than 60%. Alcohols work faster as long as the concentration increases. However, when it reaches between 90-95% concentration, the effectiveness seems to top out.
Another reason why alcohol is great against bacteria is the fact that the bacteria can’t develop any resistance to it, so the alcohol won’t lose its effectiveness after each usage.
Some studies show that ethanol is so powerful in high concentration that it gets rid of three species of disease-causing bacteria. That makes it way superior to the traditional washing of hands with a bar of soap.
However, that doesn’t mean that alcohol works well against all harmful bacteria. Germs like norovirus, cryptosporidium and clostridium difficile won’t be removed using hand sanitizer. Also, hand sanitizers aren’t effective in removing chemicals like pesticides or heavy metals.
If your hands are dirty or greasy, it would be better to use water with soap than a hand sanitizer.
You should keep in mind that alcohol-free hand sanitizers aren’t as effective at getting rid of harmful bacteria. They may not kill as many germs and might only reduce their growth, but it won’t kill them overnight. The CDC recommends you use hand sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol in them for maximum effectiveness.
Does Hand Sanitizer Expire?
Hand sanitizers don’t really expire. It’s likely that they have an expiration date on the bottle because the FDA is regulating them. It’s part of their requirements. The expiration date shows the last date which the product contains the ingredients that are specified on the label. Whether the manufacturer has tested how long their product last is unknown to its customers. Keep in mind that not all manufacturers test their products.
Alcohol is a shelf-stable chemical which means that if it’s kept in a sealed container at room temperature, it can last for a very long time without affecting its concentration. However, the alcohol evaporates fairly easy because of its low boiling point. Over time, as the bottle keeps being opened and closed, some molecules escape, and the concentration starts to decrease. Still, if you keep your bottles closed at room temperature, you’ll have an effective product that is going to last you for a long time.
When to Use Hand Sanitizers?
According to the CDC, you should only use a hand sanitizer when you don’t have soap and water nearby. You should never use a hand sanitizer to clean greasy or dirty hands because it won’t be as effective as you want.
Hand sanitizers serve an excellent purpose in hospitals and clinics. If you visit someone who is sick, in a hospital, you should use a hand sanitizer before and after your visit to prevent the spread of the disease.
To summarize, people are once again interested in hand sanitizers due to the second wave of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Hand sanitizers are effective in stopping the spread of disease because of their alcohol concentration. The more alcohol concentration one hand sanitizer has, the more effective it is. The CDC recommends you use a hand sanitizer with more than 60% alcohol to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
However, hand sanitizers aren’t effective against all germs. If you use them against bacteria like norovirus, cryptosporidium and clostridium difficile they won’t protect you. Also, if your hands are dirty or greasy, you should wash your hands with soap and water. Hand sanitizers won’t clean your hands full no matter how much alcohol they have.
You should know that hand sanitizers don’t really expire. They can last you for a very long time as long as you keep them closed in room temperature. The more you open them, the more alcohol molecules are going to escape, and you’ll lose their effectiveness.