What to Look For in Hand Sanitizer | The Active Ingredient

ethyl alcohol best for hand sanitizer

Hand sanitizer will have an active ingredient. It’s the ingredient that gets the job done. The disinfecting.

Use it when hand washing is not available or practical. It will help to kill bacteria and inactivate virus that may have gotten on your hands.

Hand Sanitizer Active Ingredient

The active ingredient is typically alcohol. Most common is ethyl alcohol. Also, isopropyl alcohol.

Why alcohol? Because it is antimicrobial. It kills bacteria. Alcohol kills bacteria usually by dissolving its cellular membrane.

“The way alcohol-based hand sanitizers work is basically by busting the cell wall of germs” and thus killing them, said one doctor. Compared with soap and water, sanitizers are a convenient alternative when you’re on the go.

Does Hand Sanitizer with Alcohol Kill Virus?

Alcohol is effective against influenza virus.

Ethyl alcohol (70%) is a powerful broad-spectrum germicide and is considered generally superior to isopropyl alcohol.

~ National Center for Biotechnology Information

Alcohol-based hand sanitizers kill most types of bacteria, viruses and fungi in a few seconds.

While rubbing your hands with sanitizer for 15 seconds is ideal, poor hand-sanitizer use still beats poor hand washing.

~ livescience

What’s interesting is this… Upon researching for a definitive answer whether or not hand sanitizer with alcohol inactivates virus (which they do)… there were caveats.

Caveats: The duration (sanitize time) of application – time it takes to destroy the virus. The type of virus. The protective mucas barrier that surrounds droplets of the virus (wet vs dry). Alcohol concentration. Are the hands dirty. Using the recommended amount.

As expected, there’s nothing definitive regarding the new covid-19 coronavirus.

Are Hand Sanitzers with Alcohol Better than Non-Alcohol?

Apparently, yes.

Many studies have found that those with an alcohol concentration between 60–95% are more effective at killing germs than those with a lower alcohol concentration or non-alcohol-based..

~ cdc

I look for a 70% alcohol content. Most common are in the 60% range. But why not up the dose? If you look for it, you’ll probably find some that are 70%. I did.

Is Washing Hands Better Than Hand Sanitizer?

Yes, IF DONE PROPERLY. The problem is, most people don’t (wash hands the right way).

With that in mind, one might suggest that proper application of hand sanitizer may be considered better – because it’s easier and more likely. But that would only be because people don’t wash their hands the way in which it would be most effective!

The Takeaway

I keep it in my vehicle (and at home). I apply it to my hands immediately upon re-entering my vehicle. It’s a logical sensible thing to do, especially during flu season (or coronavirus pandemic!).

Unfortunately hand sanitizer is largely difficult to get right now because of the unfolding coronavirus situation. Hopefully this is temporary. Just keep looking…

Maybe there’s some here:
(Search amzn for 70% alcohol content)

Tips To Survive A Pandemic


  1. “ Is Washing Hands Better Than Hand Sanitizer? “

    Yes, with another caveat. Unlike alcohol, washing hands with soap does not kill the virus, it just washes it off your hands and into the sink. Notice I didn’t say down the drain! As water and soap is rinsed off your hands it hits the sink and splatters. The virus ends up “somewhere” in or on your sink bowl and kids are the worst! 😝 Just mentioning this to get you to think about wiping the sink down with alcohol, bleach, or something else approved for “killing” the virus because I’m pretty sure not all of it is making it’s way down the drain.

    1. Soap DOES kill the Covid19 because the membrane is a lipid , which breaks down with soap and water

  2. Ken,

    Your differentiating hand sanitizers by alcohol concentration. Since this scare began, and my checking my stocks, one thing I’ve noticed is some of my bottles of alcohol are labeled as 91%, some as 70%. I had never really noted the difference when purchasing.

    While we do have “hand sanitizer” on hand, I have thought that improvised hand wipes of alcohol saturated cloth or paper towels, followed by applying standard hand lotions might suffice as “hand sanitizer” substitute.

    Any thoughts?

    1. First, to be clear, “they” say 60 – 95% is advisable. I haven’t read professional reports differentiating the concentrations. It was my own injection of opinion that (probably) the higher the better (just using logic).

      Isopropyl rubbing alcohol could indeed be soaked into a given cloth or wipe and then used. Sure makes sense to me. I’ll bet that’s hard to find these days too. Not sure where one might find ethyl alcohol (the typical active ingredient in hand sanitizers). Though research says isopropyl will work too.

      1. Hey guys, good afternoon,,,
        I am curious if denatured alcohol can be substituted for ethyl or isopropyl alcohol?

        1. NRP,
          Bummer, i have 8 gallons of the stuff leftover from a solid surface job i did

    2. Dennis, Ken and others interested.
      Just my thoughts..
      . I have been suggesting to those I know and care about to either make their own, or to add some essential oil they like well , that has antiviral properties…to their purchased product.
      The amount would be dependent on the size bottle, ..My method i suggest is to remove about 30 cc from an 12 oz bottle..and add 10-15 cc of olive oil/ or coconut oil with choice of essential oil mixed in it well….. to a 12 oz bottle i would add 10 drops, and shake it very hard.. to blend well. … some ideas for this would be oe of the Thieves blend’s, oil of oregano, and the ingredients of the Theives blends separately…there are several, most contain eucalyptus… i use peppermint in its place. Thyme and curcumin could be other options… If in doubt put in startpage search bar.. is ___antiviral?
      all of the sanitizers are very hard on ones skin.. even the soaps if not rinsed well. doing the same with a small amount of lotion… might be a alternative…to assist in skin protection.. Long ago and far away I added 2 tbsp of olive oil to commercial lotions to add emollient to excessively dry and flaking skin of those who were troubled by it… adding essential oils to the oil being added is the key, and mixing it well before hand so the oil is infused with essential oil … then shake well to disperse thru container…
      Given the purchase of all of these items by the newly awakened, and other entitys.. this may be our best response to keeping us and our families safe.

      1. That’s why hand sanitizers with alcohol (the predominantly used method) all have various gel type and natural additives to minimize the effects of frequent sanitizing. Read the bottles for more information on their other ingredients.

        Picture hospital workers, for example… they use this stuff constantly. They seem to be faring pretty well. (Just pointing out that these sanitizers do have inactive ingredients to work with the skin).

        The best thing you can do is wash your hands the right way. Soap / lather / wash for 20 seconds, being sure to get under fingernails too.

        The next best way is sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.

  3. Received a recipe for hand sanitzor from JS which was/is on line, sent it to the niece. She normally makes scrubs/lotions for her clientele, now she will be able to offer them this product.
    Have no idea if our area is out or not, since I use the Lysol wipes for those times I have to venture in to the great unknown referred to as town😝😬.

  4. My friend got some ino says propanol 100% and 70% and ethanol 78% demonstrated reduction of Sars Covid 19 to levels below detection in 30 seconds. Per Microchem Lab in Austin Tx.

    My sanitizer has 65% ethyl alcohol. I’m going to mix it with 91% isopropyl to bring the level up. Gotta work with what I got.

    God bless

  5. We’ve always been very generous with a squirt of hand sanitizer until it is almost dripping off our hands. Then we rub it on both sides of our hands very well even up the wrists. Better too much than not enough!

    1. Absolutely! A common problem is people don’t use enough. It needs to stay wet long enough, while rubbing it all in. All over.

  6. When I was going to stores, I was using 91% alcohol poured straight into a lidded jar. Inside the jar were folded paper towels that I had saturated with this alcohol.

    Straight on 91% alcohol wipes on a paper towel, one use, then discarded. One was to wipe down a store cart handle, then one was to wipe hands down after putting cart away and getting into vehicle.

    According to the article Ken posted the other day, this 95% isopropyl alcohol had a very good sanitizing rating (around 30 seconds to kill the Sars/Covid).

  7. Just buy Everclear by the gallon. Whatever you don’t drink makes dandy cocktails, or if the SHTF, great barter item, or fuel for your marine stove.
    Dammed if I am going to pay for some clear snot in a bottle to rub all over my paws when Lye soap and Everclear will do the trick.
    Oh, and if you are a cheapskate, wash your hands with the Everclear over a bowl, and wait for a while before pouring it into your bloody mary or screwdriver. Waste not, want not, right ?

    1. OLD SCHOOL: EverClear works great in small rocket engines. Might
      work in big rockets in case we gotta get outa here.

  8. I have always wondered what ingredients are in the cart wipes in grocery stores. They basically have no smell so I ruled out alcohol or bleach. Maybe a type of peroxide. I couldn’t find much info online. Carts are nasty. I’m just wondering if their wipes are really all that good. I know they would have to help some just being wet and wiping down the handle but I don’t know if they disinfect. Might be time to take my own wipes grocery shopping.

    1. Just left our super Wal-Mart and dollar store.Zero hand sanitizer either place. Did buy more Clorox wipes.No beanbags bigger than1 lb rice either. Think we’re done with shopping for awhile.

      1. P.S. I just posted on Ken’s previous article , about the first corona case in my state.

  9. Did you see Tito’s Vodka twitter response to customers thinking they could use it for hand sanitizer?
    “Per the CDC, hand sanitizer needs to contain at least 60% alcohol. Tito’s Handmade Vodka is 40% alcohol, and therefore does not meet the current recommendation of the CDC.” :-)

    1. T for Texas
      Do they sell moon shine in the stores back there? It could possible have high enough proof content for passing the hand sanitizer requirements.

      Yes, I know some of the guys are going to say, ‘that is a sin for such procurements’. But it is what it is. lol

        1. Grits, get some everclear,,, that stuff was nasty, mean hangovers

  10. Is 7.5% povidone-iodine, gonna be any good in killing the Wahun virus?

    1. Stand my Ground we use 7.5% povidone-iodine to clean wounds and wash our hands. Here is the pamphlet quote from the manufacturer.

      Solutions of iodinated povidone
      gradually release iodine to kill or
      stop the growth of bacteria, fungi,
      viruses, protozoa, cysts and

      Note it said kill or stop the growth and the key note Gradually.

      When creating a sterile field we use a LOT of it and scrub the area first for skin oil and gross dirt removal, pat dry with kit’s sterile towel. The reapply for second scrub with a two minute exposure time. Care is taken not allow pooling under the patient because of potential for chemical burns and Bovie pad failures.

      Generally effective against common skin bacteria. I cannot find any reference to how effective against “enveloped” viruses like COVID 19.

      Did the CDC mention it as an option? I know they mentioned bleach solutions and 60% ETOH waterless Hand washes.

      Plain soap and water washes off viruses just as well.

      1. me2
        Going through my inventory of med supplies today. Saw the Iodine, as was just wondering.

        I use it alot in livestock, so, I have it in inventory. I did not research, just posted the question. Time is short today for me.

        1. Well Stand My Ground from what I sent you it seems useful BUT I just mentioned it’s limitations. 2 minutes is a long time to keep something wet with it AFTER you scrub off the skin oils and dirt that inhibits it’s effectiveness.

          I’d wash my hands in it :-) I DO as the hibiclens tears up my skin.

  11. SMG
    That is a good question, we keep that here at the place. Used it to clean wounds on the animals if needed.
    Dh needed it more than the animals.

  12. Iso-Heet is, they also make a methanol version. The isopropyl removes moisture from the gas, the methanol just melts it when it freezes up…I believe the iso is yellow bottle and methanol is the red, but I could have that reversed.

  13. I bought some 3m avagard hand antiseptic but it only has 61 percent ethyl alcohol so not sure how good it is
    Claims it kills greater than 99.999% of harmful bacteria in 15 seconds

    1. They say, 60% or greater. So you should be in pretty good shape in my estimation.

    1. Chevy how about a dollar store ketchup squeeze bottle unless you have a soon to be empty one to wash out?

      Or any twist top small plastic jar also Dollar Store or empty bullion jar washed out?

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