How to Use Hand Sanitiser Gel
Washing your hands with soap and water is the most effective way to clean them, and keep them free of bacteria and other pathogens. But for times when you don’t have access to soap and water, alcohol-based hand sanitisers have long been recommended as a safe alternative. Though not intended for cleaning your hands of dirt and grime, good hand sanitisers have antibacterial or antimicrobial properties that help reduce the risk of spreading certain diseases. But not all hand rubs or hand sanitisers are effective, and those that are still depend on proper use to be of any benefit.
What Does Hand Sanitiser Do?
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends alcohol-based hand rubs or sanitisers. One of the primary reasons for this is that they are shown to be fast-acting against a broad range of microbes, with little risk of these microbes becoming resistant to alcohol-based sanitisers1.
The alcohol is the active ingredient and works by breaking apart proteins in disease-causing pathogens. This interferes with a cell's metabolism, effectively neutralising or killing a variety of bacteria and viruses. Although low concentrations of alcohol have some ability to kill microbes, the effectiveness and speed of the action improves with higher levels of alcohol. Hand sanitisers are most effective with an alcohol concentration of between 60 and 90 percent, with levels above 90% offering no greater benefit. Besides not being more effective, sanitisers with an alcohol concentration exceeding 90% will see the alcohol content evaporate more quickly, making them less effective over time.
What Is in Hand Sanitiser Gel?
The recommended formulation for alcohol-based hand sanitisers as per the WHO consists of:
- Alcohol (Ethanol or Isopropyl)
- Hydrogen peroxide
- Sterile distilled water
The alcohol is the active ingredient, with the water acting as a carrier agent for the alcohol and other ingredients. Hydrogen peroxide is not an active ingredient but is only added to prevent contaminating bacteria from forming in the solution, other non-toxic preservatives can also be used. Because alcohol can dry out your skin, glycerol is added as a moisturising agent. However, other moisturising agents can be used.
While this is what the WHO recommends, other ingredients can also be used. It is important that these ingredients be non-toxic and don't increase the risk of allergic reactions. Most hand sanitisers, including hand sanitising gels, follow this formula, with the only other ingredients being colourants or thickening agents (emulsifiers). Emulsifiers are used in hand sanitising gels but not in sprays or liquids.
As mentioned earlier, alcohol levels of between 60 and 90 percent are most effective. Although there are three primary types of alcohol–isopropyl, methanol, and ethanol–only isopropyl and ethanol should be used in hand sanitisers. Methanol is an industrial agent and considerably more toxic than isopropyl and ethanol. Many hand sanitiser manufacturers–including Elyptol–prefer ethanol since it can be naturally produced through the fermentation of sugars by yeasts, making it more environmentally friendly.
Without adequate levels of moisturising agents, alcohol-based hand sanitisers can make your skin very dry, even causing it to crack. Because of this, some people prefer alcohol-free hand sanitisers. However, these antimicrobial sanitisers and hand rubs typically use benzalkonium chloride as an active ingredient, which is less effective against viruses. Benzalkonium chloride–and similar compounds used in alcohol-free sanitisers–can be effective against fungi and bacteria but should only be used if you don't have access to an alcohol-based sanitiser, and never as a safeguard against viruses.
How to Use Hand Sanitiser Gel
It is not only the alcohol content of hand sanitiser gels, sprays, liquids, or wipes that make them an effective measure against bacteria and viruses. It is also the proper application and storage that matter. Health experts always advise the use of soap and water as the most effective way to clean your hands, and to clear them of viruses and bacteria. Alcohol-based hand sanitisers should be used between–not instead of–regular hand washing, and when access to soap and water is limited.
The most effective way to use hand sanitiser gel is to:
- First remove any jewellery from your hands, such as rings.
- Apply a generous amount of sanitising gel to the palm of one hand.
- Rub the palms of both hands together to spread the gel, then continue rubbing your hands to spread the gel all over.
- Rub the palm of one hand over the back of the other hand and then switch.
- Remember to interlace your fingers both palm to palm and palm to back of fingers and remember to also rub the gel over the thumbs of both hands.
- Pay particular attention to your fingers and the tips of your fingers and your nails.
- Continue repeating all the actions for at least a minute or until your hands are dry.
- Avoid using a cloth or other item to wipe excess gel off your hands. Rather keep rubbing your hands until all the gel is gone.
All types of hand sanitisers can also be less effective on hands that are heavily soiled or visibly dirty. Visible dirt can result in the alcohol content not coming into contact with bacteria and viruses long enough to destroy them. Carrying a supply of antimicrobial hand sanitiser wipes can help counter this. If your hands are visibly dirty and you don’t have access to soap and water, first clean them using a wipe before applying the hand sanitiser gel.
Finally, it is important to always store alcohol-based hand sanitisers in a cool place, and out of direct sunlight. Alcohol evaporates more easily than water and being exposed to high temperatures will cause the alcohol in your hand sanitiser to evaporate more quickly, making the sanitiser less effective.
Elyptol’s range of hand sanitising wipes, sprays, and gels are 100% Australian made, with an alcohol concentration of 70%. We use ethanol derived from processed corn or sugar cane, combined with water, eucalyptus, glycerol–as a moisturising agent–and piroctone olamine as a preservative. Our hand sanitising gels also include Hyprolose as an emulsifier. This means they are not only very effective at keeping your hands free from disease-causing pathogens, they also keep your hands moisturised and soft, with little risk of any allergic reactions.