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PURELL ES6 hand sanitizer dispenser being used at airport baggage claim

3 Reasons Why Ethyl Alcohol-Based Hand Sanitizers are More Effective

Jim Arbogast

5/13/2020


By Jim Arbogast, Ph.D.


Hygiene Sciences and Public Health Advancements Vice President, GOJO Industries

Nearly all PURELL® hand sanitizing products are ethyl alcohol-based for one very simple reason: alcohol is the most proven effective germ-killing agent for use on skin. So it’s no wonder that when the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) urges frequent handwashing, the internationally-respected health organization adds that, “If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.”1,2

This preference for alcohol-based sanitizers is because alcohol has undergone far more testing than non-alcohol as a germ-killing agent. The jury is still out when it comes to non-alcohol antimicrobials.

Here are three important reasons why an at least 60 percent ethyl alcohol-based hand sanitizer is usually your best option:

1. Alcohol kills quicker – Ethyl alcohol-based hand sanitizers kill germs in as little as 15 seconds while non-alcohol products can take 30 to 60 seconds – formulation matters. And if it takes up to four times longer for the alcohol-free product to kill germs, the user is likelier to still have dirty hands when they continue on to other activities, like eating, shaking hands, or touching common surfaces such as doorknobs and escalator rails.

2. Alcohol-based sanitizers are less sensitive to the effect of other ingredients – In addition to the germ-killing agent, hand sanitizer formulations include such additional ingredients as fragrances, coloring agents, skin conditioners and other add-ins. In all cases for hand hygiene products, “formulation matters,” but with the case of non-alcohol formulations, these additional substances can inhibit the germ-killing agent, negatively impacting its effectiveness.3,4 Alcohol, on the other hand, is less sensitive to these other ingredients and is less likely to be inhibited by them.

3. Alcohol has the most credible and comprehensive scientific body of evidence – Countless published works for well over a century have supported the efficacy of ethyl alcohol as a germ-killing agent—from The Boston Medical and Surgical Journal in 19035 to the World Health Organization’s Hand Hygiene Guidelines in 2009.6 Non-alcohol agents have not been literally “under the microscope” for nearly as long or undergone such rigorous and conclusive research. The benefit of non-alcohol formulations is still to be well-determined.

Despite the overwhelming evidence of the germ-fighting superiority of ethyl alcohol-based hand sanitizers, customers might have limited circumstances in which a non-alcohol sanitizer is the preferred choice. If that’s your case, ask your GOJO distributor for details about the availability of non-alcohol formulations of PURELL sanitizers and for performance data.

1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Wash Your Hands. http://cdc.gov/features/handwashing
2. Boyce, J.M. and Pittet, D., Guideline for Hand Hygiene in Health-Care Settings. Recommendations of the Healthcare Infection Control Practices Advisory Committee and the HICPAC/SHEA/APIC/IDSA Hand Hygiene Task Force. Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America/Association for Professionals in Infection Control/Infectious Diseases Society of America. MMWR Recommendations and Reports 51, 1-45, Oct. 25, 2002. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/rr5116a1.htm
3. Taylor, T., Physicochemical factors affecting the rapid bactericidal efficacy of the phenolic antibacterial triclosan, International Journal of Cosmetic Science, 2004.
4. Lambert, R., The Effect of Interfering substances on the disinfection process: a mathematical model, Journal of Applied Microbiology, 2001.
5. Harrington, C. and Walker, H., The Germicidal Action of Alcohol, Boston Medical and Surgical Journal CXLVIII, 548-552, 1903.
6. World Health Organization, WHO Guidelines for Hand Hygiene in Health Care 7-202. 2009. Geneva.

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