Hand Sanitizer vs Hand Washing – Which actually is effective and safe?

Dr S.T. Sathya Meonah PhD.,

As the Corona fuss is still on the loose, most of us (hopefully) have become quite adapted to the new routine of washing hands regularly, wearing masks when moving out and practicing high sense of social distancing.

Many parents are super conscious of their kids’ health and insist on washing hands as often as possible.

This routine of washing hands sometimes can become a nightmare to us and our kids’ health if not done in the right way.


Read on….

Which is good? Water or Hand Sanitizer?

Now this is a legitimate question and obviously everyone would tell you that washing with soap and water will be a cut above the hand sanitizer.

But practically, our adapted brains tend to hunt for that little bottle of sanitizer and squeeze it up to deterge our hands, instead of heading to the bathroom and wash it with soap and water.

Everything looks normal again as it were…

But let me tell you the truth…

Using hand sanitizers often can add up to the chemical load in your body unwantedly and more so in your little children…

Chemical composition of hand sanitizer

Let us deal it scientifically…

One can imagine the umpteen number of chemical components needed to prepare a decent hand sanitizer.

Every hand sanitizer typically contains chemical agents like alcohol, propanol triethanolamine, propylene glycol, tocopheryl acetate, aminomethyl propanol, poly acrylates, carbomer, glycerine, emollients, hydrogen peroxide, isopropyl myristate, benzalkonium chloride etc…  

     Table 1: Chemicals used in hand sanitizer

Group            Chemicals used Action
EmollientsGlycerin, propylene glycol, isopropanol, glycerolSkin hydration
ThickenersAminomethyl propanol, propanol triethanolamineThickening the solvents
AlcoholEthanol, isopropanol, n-propanolDisinfectant
CarbomersHydroxyethyl cellulose, hydroxypropyl cellulose, hydroxypropyl methylcellulose sodium carboxymethyl celluloseViscosity enhancer

Many of these chemicals are highly harmful if ingested. Although we would have warned our kids not to taste them, many a time they do ingest these chemicals indirectly when they eat their food after sanitizing their hands.  

There are some side effects when taken orally. Although the dose will be very little, it will be a cause of concern if we regularly ingest them unknowingly (especially children).

  Table 2: Side effects  when ingesting hand sanitizers

Chemicals used in                   hand sanitizers                 Side effects when ingested
Propylene glycol Potential toxic to kidneys and liver mainly in kids and pregnant women, neurological issues and cardiac arrests in infants.
GlycerolNausea, vomiting, headaches
IsopropylalcoholRespiratory failure, pulmonary swelling, renal failure, poisoning 
PolyacrylatesLung irritant 

Banned hand sanitizer brands

The FDA banned a number of hand sanitizers in the month of June after they were tested to contain methyl alcohol, a serious poisoning agent. I have given the list below of those banned varieties.

The outlets abruptly halted the sale of these sanitizers. Customers of these products were advised to seek immediate medical help.

  • All-Clean Hand Sanitizer (NDC: 74589-002-01)
  • Esk Biochem Hand Sanitizer (NDC: 74589-007-01)
  • CleanCare NoGerm Advanced Hand Sanitizer 75% Alcohol (NDC: 74589-008-04)
  • Lavar 70 Gel Hand Sanitizer (NDC: 74589-006-01)
  • The Good Gel Antibacterial Gel Hand Sanitizer (NDC: 74589-010-10)
  • CleanCare NoGerm Advanced Hand Sanitizer 80% Alcohol (NDC: 74589-005-03)
  • CleanCare NoGerm Advanced Hand Sanitizer 75% Alcohol (NDC: 74589-009-01)
  • CleanCare NoGerm Advanced Hand Sanitizer 80% Alcohol (NDC: 74589-003-01)
  • Saniderm Advanced Hand Sanitizer (NDC: 74589-001-01)

But according to the USA Today report, the sale of some forbidden hand sanitizers is still advancing.

When to use a hand sanitizer?

This being the present case, the most sensible way to avoid these ‘extra’ dangers is to use hand sanitizers only when it is really needed. Consider the use of hand sanitizer to be a SOS type (to be used only when there is no option available) especially in children.

Monitor your children at home carefully so that they don’t overuse the product. Children have a fancy rubbing their hands with sanitizers often (at least my kids do that!).

When at home make it a rule not to use hand sanitizers, but use water and soap to wash hands.

After coming home, please wash your hand with soap and water even if you have used hand sanitizers. That way we can get rid of the residue chemicals of the hand sanitizer.

Remember tiny drops of water make the mighty ocean. Likewise, minute residues of chemicals ingested everyday can lead to a fatal disaster after decades.

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