How to find an effective germ-killing hand sanitizer amidst the Purell shortage

How you apply your hand sanitizer is also an important factor in how effective it is.

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How you apply your hand sanitizer is also an important factor in how effective it is.
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Shoshy Ciment/Business Insider
  • As go-to hand sanitizer brands like Purell experience shortages, consumers are looking for other options to kill germs amidst the coronavirus outbreak.
  • An effective hand sanitizer has between 60% and 95% alcohol content. It may have other ingredients like moisturizers or scents, but alcohol is the active ingredient.
  • Be wary of products that suggest they contain an alcohol substitute.
  • To use the product correctly, be sure to coat your hands and let them air dry.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Coronavirus cases continue to mount, and people are doing everything in their power to stay healthy, including stocking up on hand sanitizer. But drugstores are running out of the coveted product, and Amazon retailers have hiked up prices, making them more difficult than usual to obtain.

Purell, for example, is currently dealing with a shortage, leaving consumers in search of lesser-known sanitizing brands that can kill germs. Not all hand sanitizers are created equally, however, and the CDC and other health experts have recommendations for finding a gel that can kill the majority of unwanted bacteria on a person’s skin.

To find the right hand sanitizer, the most important factor is its alcohol content, but how you apply your sanitizing product is also a factor in its effectiveness.

Here’s what to look out for if you’re on the market for hand sanitizer.

An effective hand sanitizer has at least 60% alcohol

Although washing your hands with warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds is the best way to protect yourself, sometimes hand sanitizer is needed in a pinch. According to the CDC website, an effective hand sanitizer has between 60% and 95% alcohol content.

On hand sanitizer labels, alcohol may be listed as “ethanol,” “isopropyl alcohol,” or “ethyl alcohol.”

As long as a product has the appropriate alcohol percentage, it’s fine, regardless of other ingredients.

“If you drop below 60% [alcohol content], the effectiveness drops very dramatically,” Miryam Wahrman, a biology professor at William Paterson University and the author of “The Hand Book: Surviving in a Germ-Filled World,” previously told Business Insider.

But be wary of any hand sanitizers or sanitation products that say they contain an alternative disinfecting ingredient that’s just as effective as alcohol, like coconut oil, because that’s not the case, Business Insider previously reported.

How you dispense and apply your hand sanitizer also matters

According to Samantha Yammine, a stem cell biologist who educates people through her Instagram and Twitter accounts, how you apply your hand sanitizer affects how effective it is.

Before you apply the product to your hands, Yammine said to check the recommended amount to dispense on the label, since it can vary based on the alcohol percentage your sanitizer has.

Then, rub the sanitizer to coat your hands entirely and let it completely dry. If you wipe any off before it dries, it won’t be as effective, according to the CDC.

If your hands are greasy or visibly dirty, hand sanitizer won’t be as effective

Yammine said that if your hands are greasy from eating a sandwich or if they’re visibly soiled, hand sanitizer won’t be able to kill bacteria. Instead, you should wash your hands with warm and soapy water for 20 seconds.

According to the CDC, people who play sports, garden outside, or handle food should always wash their hands after the activity rather than rely on hand sanitizer.