The great savior of germ conscious parents far and wide is the gel based hand sanitizer. Pocket size bottles of it emerge from diaper bags and purses after potentially infectious encounters with playgrounds, before eating in public restaurants, and even discreetly after playdates with friends who have suspiciously runny noses. Applying the astringent makes us feel in control, but are we being effective? The quick and dirty answer is Yes and No.
Studies have shown that the use of hand sanitizers are effective at reducing absence rates in schools, and reducing illnesses in college dorms, but only if the right kind of sanitizer is used. According to the Center For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) alcohol based hand sanitizers must contain a 60% to 90% concentration of ethanol or isopropanol in order to be effective germicides. Some products that are marketed as antimicrobial actually do not reduce bacteria count on hands at all. In fact, some even increase the bacteria count on hands after they are applied. Sanitizers with 40% gel and 40% ethanol will reduce some fungus (fungi?), but won’t do anything to kill bacteria.
If you want your hand sanitizer to be the effective tool you are hoping for you should make sure it contains at least 60% ethyl or isopropyl alcolohol.
For further reading:
Emerging Infectious Diseases letter “Hand Sanitizer Alert” by Scott A Reynolds, Foster Levy, and Elaine S. Walker