A robust hand hygiene program is integral to combating the spread of germs in your facility.
While frequent handwashing with soap and water is recognized as one of the best ways to stop the spread of illness-causing germs, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends using alcohol-based or Benzalkonium Chloride hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
Hand sanitizers can quickly reduce the number of germs when soap and water are not available or in certain situations, such as coming into contact with a door handle or other high-touch surfaces where the risk of germs is greater.
When selecting a hand sanitizer, it’s important to know that there are many different types of hand sanitizers but not all are safe.
Effective hand sanitizers are alcohol or Benzalkonium Chloride based, but as the production of hand sanitizers skyrocketed during the Coronavirus pandemic, manufacturers substituted approved active ingredients with harmful alcohols, creating a hazardous situation for you and the people in your building.
Hand Sanitizer Recall
In fact, during the Coronavirus pandemic, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recalled as many as 250 brands of hand sanitizer due to the high presence of methanol.
It is recommended by the FDA and the CDC to stay away from hand sanitizers made from methanol due to its toxicity and adverse health effects.
While the majority of recalls are due to the presence of methanol, a type of alcohol that is harmful to people, there have been sanitizers with other toxins too.
To help you protect your occupants, and fight the spread of germs, we put together this article which reviews the types of alcohol-based hand sanitizers that are safe for use so you can make the best choice.
What are the different types of hand sanitizers?
Hand sanitizers need to be approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as an over-the-counter drug.
There are two active ingredients approved for use in hand sanitizers by the FDA: alcohol and Benzalkonium Chloride (often referred to as BZK or BAC).
Pro Tip: If you are not sure if the sanitizer you are currently using has been approved, or you would like to find out more about approved sanitizers, visit: FDA’s Hand Sanitizer Do-Not-Use List. If your sanitizer is on the list, then it is not considered safe for use.
Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are by far the most popular but BZK/BAC sanitizers are growing in popularity.
Both alcohol-based and Benzalkonium Chloride (BZK/BAC) hand sanitizers work the same.
BZK sanitizers do not require a specific active ingredient % to be effective and have not been found to contain contaminants like alcohol-based sanitizers.
Alcohol-based hand sanitizers should contain at least 60% alcohol. Hand sanitizers without at least 60% alcohol don’t consistently kill germs.
However, as mentioned, there are many different types of alcohol used in hand sanitizer and not all are safe or effective.
Alcohol-Based Sanitizers That Are Safe For Use
There are only two types of alcohols that are accepted by the FDA as active ingredients in alcohol-based hand sanitizers: ethanol (ethyl alcohol) or isopropyl alcohol (isopropanol or 2-propanol).
Ethanol / Ethyl Alcohol
The most common alcohol found in sanitizers is ethanol.
Ethanol is also called ethyl alcohol or grain alcohol. Ethanol is the only type of alcohol that is safe to drink.
It is not harmful to the skin and should not produce any adverse health effects.
Isopropyl is the next most common alcohol used in hand sanitizer. It is also referred to as isopropanol or 2-Propanol.
You may have heard of this alcohol before. Isopropyl alcohol is also an active ingredient in rubbing alcohol.
Isopropyl alcohol is approved for use on the skin, however, it is not safe to ingest.
Which alcohol-based sanitizers are not safe for use?
According to the FDA and CDC, Methanol and 1-propanol are not acceptable ingredients in hand sanitizer. They can be very toxic to humans.
Methanol or methyl alcohol, also known as wood alcohol, is very toxic and should not be used in hand sanitizer.
To define how harmful it is, understand that this is a common ingredient used to make rocket fuel and antifreeze.
Methanol should never be rubbed on your skin or swallowed. Like other types of alcohol, it readily absorbs through the skin.
Swallowing, drinking, or using hand sanitizers contaminated with methanol can cause serious health problems, including permanent blindness and death.
1-propanol is another toxic alcohol found in hand sanitizer. It is not used as frequently as methanol, but it is still dangerous.
This alcohol is also used to make degreasing fluid and paint.
Using or ingesting a hand sanitizer with 1-propanol can result in decreased breathing and heart rate, among other serious symptoms, and can lead to death. It can also severely irritate your skin and eyes.
How to Properly Use Hand Sanitizer
With an understanding of which sanitizers are safe and which are not, it is important to ensure people know how to properly use sanitizer for maximum effectiveness.
To make sure hand sanitizer is reducing the number of germs, users should follow two simple steps:
- Lather hands with enough sanitizer to thoroughly coat all surfaces
- Rub hands together for at least 20 seconds or until all hand sanitizer has dried*
*It is important to allow hand sanitizer to air dry. Do not rinse or wipe off sanitizer as this will not allow the solution to combat germs on hands.
Washing your hands with soap and water removes germs from your hands, and alcohol-based hand sanitizers help kill remaining germs on your hands.
The CDC recommends washing hands with soap and water whenever possible because handwashing reduces the amounts of all types of germs, soils, and chemicals on hands.
Remember, it is not recommended to replace hand washing with hand sanitizing because sanitizers do not eliminate all types of germs and are not effective if hands are visibly dirty.
As a result, hand sanitizers should be promoted for use in addition to handwashing with soap and water.
Before buying a hand sanitizer, make sure to check the labels to ensure that it does not contain a toxic alcohol.
Imperial Dade locations have a wide range of hand sanitizers to help you develop a robust hand hygiene program for your facility.
If you’re located in the United States, Puerto Rico, the Caribbean, or Canada contact a specialist today for help determining how you can enhance your program with strategic dispenser placement, new dispensing systems, and sanitizers to ensure your occupants are able and encouraged to frequently wash and sanitize their hands.