Is Hand Sanitiser Spray Better than Hand Sanitiser Gel?
Hand sanitisers are not meant to replace washing your hands with soap and water. Rather they are meant to be an effective alternative to hand washing when you don’t have easy access to soap and water. Washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds cleans your hands of any accumulated dirt, and is more effective at also getting rid of all bacteria and viruses from the surface of your hands. Hand sanitisers are not designed to clean heavily soiled hands, and are also only effective at getting rid of some bacteria and viruses.
This doesn’t mean that hand sanitisers aren’t effective at preventing the spread of diseases, because they are. But you should always use them in conjunction with other good hand hygiene practices, such as washing your hands with soap and water whenever you get the chance. But should you be choosing hand sanitiser spray over a sanitising gel? Is one better than the other?
How Bacteria and Viruses Get onto Your Hands
At any given time we all have bacteria on our hands, though many are not harmful to us. However, through the course of each day we pick up–and transfer–many more with the dozens of surfaces and objects we touch and handle. Every door, desk, countertop, computer, mobile device, and more, collects bacteria and viruses. Some might be airborne and settle on these items, while others are transferred from your hands and the hands of other people. And many can survive for hours if the surface or object hasn’t recently been sanitised.
Some bacteria and viruses are also transferred to your hands whenever you sneeze or cough into your hands, and while these might not make you ill, they will transfer to any surface you touch. And anyone touching these surfaces after you could risk picking them up, and later becoming ill.
How Bacteria and Viruses Get into Your System
While some disease-causing pathogens–bacteria and viruses–have very specific ways of getting into your system, many enter our bodies through our nose, eyes, mouth, or small wounds that haven’t healed over. We unconsciously touch our faces many times each day. Any bacteria and viruses that have accumulated on your hands since you last washed or sanitised them then have an opportunity to be transferred to your face, and any of the common entryways to our bodies. And even if you have recently cleaned your hands, using your mobile phone could also expose you to pathogens that have settled on it.
Social experiments have shown quite dramatically how substances on our hands can transfer to our faces and other people and surfaces in less than an hour, and in an environment where washing hands isn’t necessarily an option. Highlighting the need for us to be more conscious of our actions, and to keep hand sanitiser–and even sanitising surface wipes–within easy reach.
Which Type of Hand Sanitiser is Better?
There are now not only many different brands of hand sanitiser to choose from, but also different types. From liquids and sprays, through to gels and wipes. Is one type better than another? Should you choose hand sanitiser spray over a gel? The short answer is, no. Studies have shown that there is little to no difference in the effectiveness of one type of hand sanitiser over another. What matters more are the ingredients of the sanitiser, and how it is applied.
The key ingredient in effective hand sanitisers is alcohol–either ethanol or isopropyl–with concentration levels of between 60 and 90 percent. Higher concentration levels are better, though anything with more than 90 percent alcohol is no more effective than one with up to 90 percent. An additional risk with a concentration level of more than 90 percent alcohol is that the alcohol will evaporate much faster, making the hand sanitiser less effective. So, whether you use a hand sanitiser spray with 70% alcohol–or a hand sanitiser gel with the same level of alcohol content–the benefit will be the same.
But in addition to paying attention to the alcohol content of your hand sanitiser, you need to ensure that you are using it properly. This entails:
- Applying a generous amount of the spray or gel to the palm of your hand.
- Then rubbing the sanitiser all over your hands, ensuring it covers all parts of your hands including your fingers, nails, thumbs, and the back of your hand.
- Continue rubbing for a minute or until your hands are dry.
It is important to remember that any hand sanitiser is less effective on hands that are heavily soiled or visibly dirty. If your hands are dirty, it is better to clean them before using hand sanitiser. And hand sanitising wipes can be useful in these situations, especially if you aren’t able to wash your hands with soap and water. Use wipes to clean your hands as much as possible. Using sanitising wipes offers the added benefit of clearing away some bacteria in the process. Once your hands are clean, you can then apply sanitiser spray or gel as normal, to make sure any remaining pathogens are also eradicated.
Does Hand Sanitiser Spray Expire?
Alcohol-based sanitisers don’t expire in the traditional sense. Meaning that it doesn’t spoil. However, hand sanitisers do include an expiry date of two to three years after manufacturing. This takes into account that alcohol evaporates even under control, and after two to three years, the alcohol content of hand sanitiser sprays and gels might have dropped below recommended levels, making them less effective at eradicating pathogens. Even if you use your hand sanitiser frequently, you should still be aware of the expiry date to ensure your sanitiser is still offering sufficient protection. Evaporation of alcohol is the same reason for storing your sanitisers in cool environments, and always out of direct sunlight.