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Do Hand Sanitisers Actually Kill Germs?

Image source: Seksun Guntanid /

In the current health crisis, we come to yet another ‘viral’ topic – how best to disinfect our hands after touching surfaces that many have been in contact with before us. Hand sanitisers in a gel or spray form have suddenly surged in popularity and suppliers can’t cope to meet the high demand. But are these products that effective? Do they disinfect hands in all circumstances?

Well, in this post we will try to give you a clearer picture on the matter and answer the question: “Does a hand sanitiser actually kill germs, be it viruses or bacteria?”

This article might be especially helpful for people, who:

  • can’t do their job from home, so they are at higher risk of catching something.
  • want to step up their safety at the workplace.
  • wonder about what’s better – washing hands or using a hand sanitiser.

When to use hand sanitisers?

Hand sanitisers have been traditionally used in healthcare establishments, lab facilities and the like. But when it comes to everyday life, their use has been generally viewed as unpopular or novel among ordinary folks. Until recently, that is. Still, is it actually a good idea to use a hand sanitiser? Health authorities recommend to use it only if you don’t have access to hot water and soap. So, if you are on the tube, for instance, or on your way somewhere in your car and want to have a quick snack on something, a hand sanitiser can come very handy, of course.

Note, though, that if your hands are very dirty (say, covered in grease or engine oil), a hand sanitiser will be pretty useless in this case.

How effective are hand sanitisers against germs

Not all hand sanitisers are made equal. Some will reduce and kill some types of microorganisms, whereas other types won’t do much at all, apart from making your hands smell nice.

Types of hand sanitisers and their efficacy

We can point out here that there are two main types of hand sanitisers, regardless of the form, they come in – gel, liquid, foam or wipes. Alcohol-based and alcohol-free hand sanitisers. Now, let’s see below what both can do about killing germs. 

Non-alcohol-based – Alcohol-free hand sanitisers have some hygienic properties but there is no recommendation whatsoever for their use against pathogens. Or in other words, they are not reliable in eliminating bacteria and viruses.

Alcohol-based – Alcohol-based hand sanitisers that contain alcohol above 60% are proven to be effective against some germs. Lipid-enveloped viruses and various types of bacteria will be reduced in number and neutralised if you disinfect your hands with an alcohol-based sanitising product. Some viruses, such as the rhinovirus and the norovirus, are not enveloped, so alcohol most probably won’t be able to inactivate them if your hands have been in contact with contaminated surfaces.

How to apply a hand sanitiser

You should apply a small amount of the product on your palm and then rub it all over both of your hands. Allow the sanitiser to air dry and you’re done. Always read the product label instructions, as well!

What’s better – washing hands or using a hand sanitiser?

Well, it’s been proven that washing hands with hot water and soap is the preferred way to remove harmful germs and general dirt. Nothing can beat the good old soap, basically. Let’s note here, as well, that healthcare service providers constantly wash their hands at their workplace, too. But of course, people, who work in labs, hospitals and dental practices, will also follow the protocol of using hand sanitisers and disinfectants, as a standard mandatory prevention measure to avoid microbial and viral cross-contamination and the spread of infections. 

Another good point to make here is that hand sanitisers are ineffective against removing harsh chemical and pesticidal traces from one’s hands. In such cases, it’s always better to wash your hands thoroughly with water and soap. Again, if you’ve touched anything highly toxic, you should also read the label for instructions on what to do and who to contact, as well.


  • Washing your hands with hot water and soap is an effective and reliable method of removing most germs, dirt and some chemical products or substances.
  • Alcohol-based hand sanitisers are effective against a range of germs and have their use in community settings, as well as when one has no access to water and soap.
  • If your local store has run out of hand sanitisers, you can check out our post on how to make one yourself at home.
  • Non-alcohol-based hand sanitisers have no effect against most harmful bacteria and viruses.


Did you find this post helpful? Please, share your thoughts in the comments below! Stay safe and wash your hands frequently in these dire times!

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