Hand Sanitizer

There are some who maintain that the recent rise in allergies is due to all this sanitary mania. Our immune systems have nothing to which to react, so they go haywire.

LINK TO COLUMN: http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/3008/how-are-you-supposed-to-use-hand-sanitizer

The anti-microbial soap products with triclosan have been shown to actually increase illnesses in households with susceptible inhabitants. The products with just alcohol–while maybe not effective for all that people think they are–seem to be okay. But if you’re using it a lot, it might dry out your skin, and that can be problematic in other ways, I suppose.

I think that point 10 is wrong.

Purell says it contains 62% Ethyl alcohol. That is the drinking kind.

Helpful link to the column in question: How are you supposed to use hand sanitizer?

Over here (Netherlands), hand sanitizer was quite the rage during the hype of the mexican flu outbreak and subsequent end of the world.
A tv consumer program had some lab tests done that showed the working of hand sanitizer to be as good as water (not water and soap).

The problem is that the alcohol evaporates before it has a chance to kill all the germs. Since no rinsing is involved, our remaining guests simply continue to party.

Ethyl alcohol can still be denatured, which is what makes it undrinkable.

Cite: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Denatured_alcohol

In heart surgery we use a goopey hand sanitizer. It has prolonged antimicroial effect. Really.

Just checked the hand sanitizer here at work.

In addition to 66% ethyl alcohol, it has aloe vera, carbomer, and triethanolamine.

Carbomer is an alternate name for acrylic acid, which is used as a thickener and emulsifier.


Yum yum.

So whether or not the ethanol is denatured alcohol, the hand sanitizer mix is not the drinking kind.

I don’t particularly care for the stuff, but I do note that it is flammable.

There is one more important aspect of hand sanitizsers and that is their role in the evolution of resistant strains.

I totally agree with the comment that fear drives the market for these products, but I think some clarification on how this fear actually drives evolution of more resistant strains needs to be addressed, because as I see it, we are all slowly getting sucked into a downward spiral of paranoia which can only end badly for us humans.

Commensal populations on our skin are in some kind of balance and regular use of cosmetic sanitizers (as opposed to industrial strength, medical sanitizers) disrupts that balance - all the weak or useful bacteria get wiped out by these partially effective or badly used antibacterial gels/lotions and the tough guys get left behind. With the competition for resources wiped out, this kind of fast-tracked selection pressure means the tough guys very quickly take over and become the dominant strains. Any bacterial mutation that toughens up against antibacterial creams will proliferate and before you know what’s happened, you get another strain of MRSA on your hands - literally…

You also need more than a couple of seconds to kill bacterial (which is usually the amount of time people give to their hand-washing), for example the bacteria causing tuberculosis needs a good 15 seconds being soaked in a 95% ethanol aqueous solution before it dies, and that’s the industrial strength, anything weaker could need about a minute or so of soaking to be effective. And in any case, once the hands are aseptic the next thing anyone will do is touch the bathroom door handle to go back into the office, which replaces all the “bugs” you just killed…

Last I heard, no hand gels reach the EN1500 standard for bacterial removal. Since soap happily messes up bacterial membranes and makes them shrivel up and die, I would seriously stick to using soap - it costs less, smells better and is just as effective - as long as it is used properly!

Wouldn’t a thorough hand-washing also kill “beneficial” bacteria? And what’s to prevent bacteria from evolving “soap resistance”?

Excuse me if this is slightly off-topic, but I couldn’t resist mentioning the latest in germaphobia: the no-touch soap dispenser. The advertising preys on the fear of germs residing on that nasty pump handle.

I wouldn’t fear those germs if someone would only come up with a substance that could cleanse the germs from my hands. Oh right, there’s the soap I just squirted and the water from the tap right there in the kitchen.

Nevermind, then.

Industrial strength??? Hell. That’s good old-fashioned drinkable Everclear!

So how do you know the “right” amount of germs to be exposed to? Obviously too much exposure is bad but now apparently so is too little…

“Nosocomial”? Really? On the five-dollar-word scale, that ranks at about ten cents. OK, maybe twenty. :dubious:

The five-dollar version is “iatrogenic”. Sheesh.

My sister (registered nurse) and I (professional cook) both dislike hand sanitizers for the same reason: they make the less-informed people think they don’t need to wash their hands. Seriously, I once saw a waitress dip her hands in dirty dishwater, dry them off, then use hand sanitizer :smack:

They installed one of those over the handwashing sink in my work kitchen. They installed it too high on the wall. When I bend down to rinse my hands it shoots me in the head.

I remember reading the warning label on some sort of industrial cleaning chemical some years ago, and was amused to see that “do not induce vomiting” was worded something like, “inducement of regurgitation is contraindicated”.

Overuse of hand sanitizer might just cause you to test positive for alcohol intake.


That study fortunately did not suggest that after a day’s work in health care you could flunk the breathalyzer test if stopped by a patrol unit. Otherwise I’d be concerned (I tend to go through a fair amount of hand sanitizer during a day’s work at the hospital).

If it comes down to resistant bugs arising through overuse of hand sanitizer/hand washing as opposed to what infections I might contract if food and health care workers don’t keep their hands clean, I’d rather they overdo on the hand cleanliness.

And I think that there’s still plenty of dirt and yuck out there to keep our immune systems revved up, even with rampant personal hygiene :dubious:, vaccines and the like. All of your computer keyboards, for instance, if swabbed right now would probably culture out an incredible array of bacterial and fungal life forms. :cool::):eek:

Singapore Changi airport has hand sanitiser stations all through the airport.

As this airport also had thermal cameras looking for high-temperature arrivals during the asian flu epidemic it’s probably not surprising.

However as a lot of germs get transferred from hand to face - e.g. cold & 'flu - then ready availability of hand sanitisers in a mass transit area is probably a good idea,

I’d like to see some actual literature to back this up. While it is true that bacteria can develop resistance to some hostile environments, this logic looks too much like an unjustified extension of antibiotic resistance. It needs to be emphasized that antibiotic is not the same as antibacterial. I think it is highly unlikely that resistance to ethanol based hand sanitizers is going to translate to methicillin resistant staph infections. I think that the mechanisms that each operate to kill the bacteria are fundamentally different.

The medical literature backs this up. I have seen no evidence that bugs are mutating and developing resistance to nonspecific killing agents such as those in hand sanitizers. More information debunking sanitizer myths here (addresses the claim that immunity is compromised by too much hand cleansing) and here.

Agreed. Hysteria.

But does that mean it is appropriate for everyone to use the same level of hygiene as health care workers and food preparers?

I’m stil interested in the difference in how the alcohol kills vs antibiotics and why it is not an issue. The links provided didn’t really explain.

Also, that first one is poorly layed out. It looked at first like it was listing myths, but in fact was listing the statements that were truths as rebuttals to the claims.