Skip to main content

What to Watch Out For in Hand Sanitizers

August 18, 2021
LACOSTA on Twitter LACOSTA on Facebook LACOSTA on LinkedIn LACOSTA on Pinterest

What to Watch Out For in Hand Sanitizers

We all probably remember the rush to buy hand sanitizer at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. By the end of the first week of quarantine, you likely couldn’t find a single bottle of hand sanitizer anywhere, and people started to turn to alternative methods. Some people decided to create their own hand sanitizers, while some companies also got in on the action, turning their facilities into hand sanitizer factories. 

While the sentiment was in the right place, hand sanitizers can sometimes be dangerous if they are made with improper ingredients. Thankfully, hand sanitizers aren’t our only option for keeping our hands clean, and if you’re able to, you should wash your hands thoroughly instead of using sanitizer at all. However, hand sanitizers and wipes are highly useful in a pinch, and you should know what to look out for in them! 

This article will go over the biggest red flags you’ll need to watch for in your hand sanitizers and give you a simple DIY hand sanitizer recipe that you can make at home. Hopefully, you’ll never have to encounter a toxic hand sanitizer, but as long as you keep reading, you’ll be well prepared.

Hand Sanitizer Basics

At their most basic, hand sanitizers are mostly alcohol and water, with a dash of a few other ingredients. On average, a hand sanitizer should be at least 60% alcohol, though there are alcohol-free hand sanitizers as well (we’ll get to them later). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) still recommends hand washing, if a sink and soap are available, but also details the need for sanitizers here, in their hand sanitizer guide.

In the majority of sanitizers, alcohol is the most vital factor that determines effectiveness. This is because of the specific chemical properties of alcohol that allow it to break up the outer coating of bacteria and viruses. Not just any level of alcohol will do the trick, though, which is why some homemade sanitizers can actually be ineffective. 

In order for the alcohol to do its job properly, it needs to be at a concentration of at least 60%. Otherwise, the alcohol cannot properly break down the entirety of the cell coverings and destroy the virus or bacteria inside! Because of this alcohol concentration level, look for hand sanitizer ingredients containing ethyl alcohol or isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol). 

These types of alcohol are important, as the FDA has distinguished various other types of alcohol that are not safe in hand sanitizers! 

Hand Sanitizer Dangers

As long as you stick to our recommendations, most hand sanitizers your encounter will be perfectly safe. However, the Food and Drug Administrations (FDA) warns that some hand sanitizers can be toxic if they use the wrong type of alcohol or if the hand sanitizer is used improperly. 

The Wrong Alcohol

Some products, rather than using ethyl or isopropyl alcohol, have used methanol (also known as wood alcohol) or 1-propyl in their hand sanitizers. While ethyl or isopropyl alcohol evaporates after its use, methanol is absorbed through the skin and can be very toxic. Similarly, 1-propyl is known to be toxic if swallowed and can irritate the skin and eyes in some cases.  Even in low concentrations, these alcohols can lead to blindness, nausea, and hospitalizations, and high concentrations can be potentially fatal to young children. 

Throughout 2020, the FDA cracked down on hand sanitizers containing methanol and 1-propyl and has issued a recall for all products containing the substance. As a result, you likely won’t encounter any store-bought hand sanitizers with methanol in them. However, you can still run the risk of contamination if you use an unfamiliar type of sanitizer.

Incorrect Use

Sanitizer can also be toxic if used in any other way than it is directed. Most commonly, poison centers worldwide admit patients for alcohol poisoning after they have swallowed hand sanitizer. Unmonitored children can be prone to this, as many commercial hand sanitizers are packaged in bright and appealing containers, making them more appealing to young eyes.

Other Chemicals

Though they are rare, there have also been hand sanitizers discovered containing the compound benzene, which can be seriously harmful. The FDA recently discovered some hand sanitizers that contain this compound, and immediately issued a recall. If you are unsure whether a hand sanitizer is unsafe or not, it is probably best to avoid it. 

Alternatives to Alcohol-Based Hand Sanitizers

Your best bet is still probably going to be a hand sanitizer that utilizes alcohol, but if that’s unavailable, or if you would prefer to use a different compound, you do have alternatives. In particular, you want to look for hand sanitizers with Benzalkonium Chloride (BC) listed as an active ingredient. 

Don’t be put off by the extensive scientific name of the chemical above; it can still be effective and safe within a hand sanitizer. A study in early 2020 discovered that particular concentrations of BC could be more effective than alcohol-based sanitizers in some cases. 

That being said, your best bet is still probably a rubbing alcohol-based product.

DIY Homemade Hand Sanitizer Recipe

While we want to emphasize that the vast majority of commercial hand sanitizers are entirely safe, we also want to give you an easy, safe hand sanitizer recipe that you can make at home. This particular recipe includes essential oils to add a pleasant scent, but they are not necessary. 

To Make:

  1. Start with ¾ cup of isopropyl alcohol, and mix with ⅓ cup of either glycerin or aloe vera. 
    1. The glycerin and/or aloe vera are technically “inactive ingredients” and act as moisturizers to prevent the rubbing alcohol from drying out your skin entirely!
  2. Add 20 drops of essential oil (we like tea tree oil) and mix thoroughly. 
  3. Pour the mixture into spray bottles, and use it when needed!

Hand sanitizers are generally safe to use and can be extremely useful when you need to clean your hands on the go. Just remember that they don’t replace the effectiveness of washing your hands with soap and water, as that is still the most effective way to clean your hands of germs and bacteria. 

Get Clean and Stay Clean

At LACOSTA, we’ve spent over 30 years helping our clients stay clean and safe. From our commercial janitorial services to our managed labor solutions, we focus on safety and efficiency to keep you and your workplace running as smoothly and safely as possible.

Reach out to us to schedule a meeting or get a quote on your next service! 

Featured Posts

Recent Posts