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Everything You Need To Know About Alcohol Based Hand Sanitizers

It's Know How, Not No How...

Much has been written about and spoken of Hand Sanitizers in recent months as the broader population tries to make better, informed choices.

  • Which type of alcohol is better?

  • What percentage of alcohol should my hand sanitizer contain?

  • Does hand sanitizing mean I need not wash my hands with soap and water?

  • I see foaming hand sanitizers in hospitals, is that better than gel or liquid?

  • When should I use a hand sanitizer?

Let’s take a few minutes to understand some of these concerns and debunk some of the untruths that may be floating around out there.

My name is Rick and my company, TB Clift Limited, has been a trusted supplier of medical and surgical products for acute care and other health care services for more than 60 years. We have a reputation for our honesty and our expertise. I’ve been talking about hand sanitizer for about thirty years now.

So, it is well known in acute care facilities (like hospitals) that the single most important action to prevent the spread of Healthcare Acquired Infections (HAIs) is to wash your hands.

Washing with soap and water is an excellent way to keep your hands clean and remove pathogens (disease causing microorganisms) picked up when you touch high contact surfaces, those surfaces that many others touch as well.

Think of it like going to the bank. When you grab a door handle you deposit some of the soil, flora ( your own naturally occurring, non-disease causing microorganisms) or pathogens you may have on your hands and you withdraw the same stuff, left by people before you.

The thing is, just as there are times that health care professionals are not close to a sink, we are not always able to wash our hands due to our proximity to soap and water.

Imagine you are pumping gas, as an example. We know there is a washroom in the station, but that fact alone can’t require us to seek it out when we are time constrained. So, using an Alcohol Based Hand Rub (ABHR) is a prudent measure to reduce your risk of acquiring a disease.

In fact, some would argue that using an Alcohol Based Hand Sanitizer is better than hand washing because it requires less time and is therefore, more practical.

I get that more convenience equals more compliance.

However, the other side of the coin says that you should not use a hand sanitizer if there is visible soil on your hands. That is because Alcohol Based Hand Sanitizers, as a rule, do not clean, i.e., remove dirt and other gross soil and there is little we can do to disinfect dirt.

Why are most hand sanitizers made with alcohol?

The most readily available hand sanitizers have, as an active ingredient, alcohol.

Alcohol has been known for centuries as a disinfectant agent. It has a quick action, providing disinfection within 30 seconds, and has a relatively safe profile when not ingested or used around open flame.

Sooo, if you are a smoker and are popping out for one, be sure that the hand sanitizer you just used has dried completely before sparking that flame! No kidding, it has happened!

What Kinds of alcohol are used in Hand Sanitizers?

There are two alcohol varieties that are common, ethyl and isopropyl.

Either is acceptable in the recommended strength, although some argue that isopropyl has a more pungent odor.

What is contact time and why is it important?

Contact time refers to how long your hand must remain wet with the sanitizer in order to be effective. If it dries before then, you won't achieve sanitization and kill what you need it to kill.

Experts will suggest that wet contact time should be 15 seconds, or for the time it takes to sing Happy Birthday and yet, some labels indicate that you should keep your hands wet for 30 seconds.

Is more better?

Companies may insist that 72% is better than 70%, others may state their products to contain 80% or more of the active ingredient. In my experience, the percentage of alcohol prevalent in the market has ranged from 62%-75%.

If we are referring to Ethyl Alcohol based hand sanitizer, which is the predominant alcohol in North America, the range narrows to 70%-75%. That is sufficient for the task. You can certainly use 80%, even 90% should you wish. But honestly, don’t go out of your way to find those high concentrations. They are not used by health care professionals who are in contact with sick and infected patients every day.

How do I know I have a trusted hand sanitizer?

The simplest advice you can receive is to look for a Natural Product Number (NPN) on the container. If that NPN is there, the product has been approved for use in Canada.

Did You Know?

Alcohol is not known for being a good cleaner and is known as a fixative.

Not only will alcohol not clean gross soil from your skin, it will likely have the effect of locking it on your skin.

That is why it is important to wash with soap and water when available.

Otherwise, you should consider using an alcohol based hand sanitizer five or six times before finding that elusive sink. When you think about it, you sometimes get that gummy feeling on your hands when using an Alcohol Based Hand Sanitizer.

In my experience that gummy, sticky feeling becomes noticeable the more I use Alcohol Based Hand Sanitizers between hand washes.

Foam verse Gel Hand Sanitizers - Which is better?

So, I’m seeing more and more foaming hand sanitizer in hospitals and have been approaching our colleagues with Infection Prevention and Control (IPAC) to ask for feedback.

A foaming hand sanitizer may have the effect of increasing frequency of use in an acute care facility, and that is a good thing.

However, in some cases you may have to use more than one pump to get your hands fully wetted and sustained wet for at least 15 seconds.

The liquids are adequate, although some users have complained that it squirts through the fingers and can cause staining of floors or fabrics.

Gels are prevalent and most like the dollop that drops into their palm and find that one pump will sustain for the minimum time.

In the end, people will find their preferences and, as long as the alcohol content is adequate, the wet contact time is adequate and you have no issues of drying, red or cracked skin, stay with your chosen brand.

How To Apply Your Hand Sanitizer

And that definitely excludes just rubbing your palms together until your hands are dry. Think in terms of all the surfaces on your hands. Your palms, back of your hands, fingers, including the tips and between your fingers.

Don’t forget those thumbs! Your goal here is not to enter the Guinness Book of World Records for speed hand sanitizing!! It is to perform hand sanitization for the sake of reducing your risk of disease.

When you have done your diligence and chosen the product for you, there is just one thing left to do. You must use it properly.


Some of the hydrating or moisturizing ingredients used by manufacturers include glycerin, aloe or hyaluronic acid.

As we enter the Canadian winter months, it is important to have an Alcohol Based Hand Sanitizer that remoisturizes your skin.

Otherwise, cracked skin opens a pathway for pathogens. And, remember to increase your use of hand lotion.

Kalaya is a Canadian developed, Canadian owned, Canadian manufactured and supplied Hand Sanitizer that is made to condition and replenish moisture to your skin.

For more information visit our Hand Sanitizer Page.

Please Remember...

Although everyone knows it, it is important to keep your hands away from your face. A not so simple task, but one that can be achieved with forethought and a little effort.

Looking for recommendations or have questions? Call us today! We have a team ready and able to help you with all your infection prevention and control questions and needs!


Unknown member
Feb 02, 2021

Thanks Merlee, Great to hear from you! Your expertise in Infection Prevention and Control and Medical Device Reprocessing is known around Canada and is invaluable. All manner of folks can benefit from your thoughts. You have a forum here anytime you want. Our goal with this site is to ensure that people have access to information and Canadian made products.


Merlee Rodway
Merlee Rodway
Feb 02, 2021

Great info Rick! Let’s hope hand hygiene remains a priority when COVID-19 settles.? I’ve use this product and it it us superior, from my experience as very soft on my hands.

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