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The Great Germ-Stopping Debate: Alcohol-Based vs Alcohol-free Hand Sanitizers

Alcohol-free hand sanitizers, Available in bulk quantities.

Updated: May 11, 2021

As we all strive to keep ourselves, families, coworkers, neighbors and communities safe during the COVID-19 pandemic era, hand sanitizer is standard, necessary equipment to help us thwart off infectious bacteria, germs and pathogens. You simply can’t safely leave your home without it.

When soap and water are not available, there’s no better option to keep our hands clean than hand sanitizer. The most trusted hand sanitizer ingredient proven extensively to eradicate germs on hands is alcohol. But as the formula for creating the most effective hand sanitizers and consumers’ preferences continue to evolve, many hand sanitizer companies are developing non-drying, alcohol-free sanitizers. These alcohol-free sanitizers contain antimicrobials that offer long-lasting germ protection without drying hands. But the question some skeptical scientists have for alcohol-free hand sanitizers is: Do they work as well in the real, germ-plagued, coronavirus-filled world as they do in the lab?

There are compelling cases for both alcohol-based and alcohol-free hand sanitizers. For most folks, the compelling reasoning for their choice of hand sanitizer is what feels best on their skin. Before we break down the strengths and weaknesses of both types of hand sanitizer, let’s be clear: Both alcohol-based and non-alcohol hand sanitizers eradicate sickly germs and pathogens and both styles of sanitizers effectively kill the COVID-19 virus.

18 oz Avant Foaming Fragrance-Free Instant Hand SanitizerThe Case for Alcohol-Based Sanitizers:

  • They’re nearly as 100 percent reliable as the sun rising in the morning. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers, like Avant’s Original Instant Hand Sanitizer, wipe out 99.9 percent of most common germs in as little as 15 seconds, compared to the 30-60 seconds non-alcohol products can require. Powered by 60% grain-based ethanol, a renewable natural resource, Avant’s Original Instant Hand Sanitizer leaves hands feeling clean and refreshed without the strong smell of perfume or alcohol.
  • Furthermore, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention calls them a more assured germ killer. Per the CDC, many studies have found that sanitizers with an alcohol concentration between 60-95 percent are more effective in killing germs than those with a lower alcohol concentration or non-alcohol-based sanitizers. Plus, there is much published research showing the real-world benefits of alcohol-based sanitizers and its use reducing illnesses and infections among students.
  • The CDC reports alcohol-free hand sanitizers may not work equally well for all classes of germs.
  • With a credible and comprehensive scientific body of evidence, there’s no question about their effectiveness. The chief problem in assessing the effectiveness of alcohol-free sanitizers, Hand Hygiene reports, is the lack of a standardized ingredient list. Alcohol-free sanitizers have undergone far less testing than alcohol-based sanitizers as a germ-killing agent.

 The Case for Alcohol-free Hand Sanitizers:

Avant Alcohol-Free Foaming Instant Hand Sanitizer

  • They don’t dry out hands, a fact that makes them very popular among nurses. Alcohol-free hand sanitizers don’t strip away oils in our skin that retain moisture.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the website Safe Hands conducted a study at California State University in Fresno where 20 volunteers used an alcohol-free hand sanitizer 10 times over several hours and experienced no redness or visual signs of irritation on their hands.

  • Benzalkonium chloride (BZK), a popular ingredient in alcohol-free sanitizers like Avant’s Alcohol-Free Foaming Instant Hand Sanitizer, is a recognized antiseptic and known bacteria killer. The website SafeHands LLC of Boca Raton, Fla., calls benzalkonium chloride “tough on germs and safe for skin.”
  • They are proven COVID-19 killers. A 2021 Bingham Young Study treated several samples of COVID-19 with benzalkonium chloride and ammonium compounds. In most cases, the compounds killed at least 99.9% of the virus within 15 seconds.
  • They are fragrance-free, making them a preferable option for users who don’t want the odor of hand sanitizer on their hands.
  • Possibly longer protection against germs: Some brands boast of up to six hours of defense against bacteria and germs after application. Zylast, a Lake Forest, Calif.-based company, uses BZK in its products and states on its website the ingredient reduces bacteria on hands for up to six hours.
  • In worst case scenarios, they are not as harmful if accidentally ingested.
  • Strong cost control, especially for consumers buying in bulk like schools and doctor’s offices.

Alcohol-free foam hand sanitizers are less expensive than alcohol-based sanitizers. Although a gallon of each may cost the same, users typically will get 2,000-3,000 more applications out of foaming hand sanitizers because the dispensing mechanism adds air to the solution during application, making the product go much further before running out.

The Bottom Line

The effectiveness of alcohol-free hand sanitizers is much less scientifically proven than alcohol-based sanitizers, but both are elite germ killers and rapidly inactivate SARS-Co-V-2. Consider both options trusted allies for our hands and our health in the must-win fight against the most dangerous public health threat of our lifetime. Whatever your preference, don’t ever leave home without hand sanitizer.


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