How Do Hand Sanitisers Work?

The below is a summary of this YouTube video - we thought you might find it useful!

Alcohol Hand Sanitiser

Alcohol based hand sanitisers are the ubiquitous little squeeze bottle heroes of airports and hospitals are allies against the flu and supposedly effective against all the things that ail you. But what's in there. And is it true that they killed 99.99% of germs.

Most popular hand sanitisers are alcohol based. The active ingredient is around 70% alcohol, depending on the formulation. The alcohol can either be ethanol, which is the same stuff in your booze. Isopropanol, the stuff in rubbing alcohol. Or N-propanol rubbing alcohols chemical sibling. They all pretty much work the same way though, which is by dissolving the outer coats of bacteria and viruses, and basically exploding them. Alcohol is polar with water loving hydroxyl groups, and it loves to disrupt the protein and lipid molecules that make up both bacterial membranes and viral envelopes. When those all-important outer coats fall apart, these disease causing culprits literally spill their guts all over the place, leaving them in no position to make anyone sick.

But what about people who never touch hand sanitiser because it will breed unkillable, super germs that will kill us all. That's a valid concern with antibiotics, which are chemicals that target some point in the bacteriums lifecycle. The antibiotics and anti-microbial hand soap can lead to the emergence of bacterial strains that are resistant and harder to kill, but resistance isn't really a problem with alcohol based hand sanitisers. Bacteria can't develop resistance to having their proteins and membranes blasted. So these alcohol based hand rubs aren't going to stop working. Make sure they are alcohol based though. Some contain antibiotics instead of alcohol and those do carry the risk of resistance. But alcohol and water alone do not make that goo. It's alcohol that does the germ murdering, but there's other stuff in there. The biggest one is glycerol. Glycerol is chemically in alcohol, but unlike its cousins, it's in there not to kill the germs, but to give the hand sanitiser it's gooey consistency that makes it more portable and easier to use.

Otherwise it'd be like pouring vodka on your hands and don't pour vodka on your hands guys, come on. But while alcohol is all you need to kill germs. It's not all that goes in there. Ethanol and isopropanol can dry out your skin. Glycerol will help counteract that effect. But so do a host of other additives manufacturers might put in. These often include tocopheryl acetate, a molecule very similar to vitamin E that also happens to be great for your skin and some familiar stuff like aloe. A host of colours and fragrances might also go in there. None of them are necessary to make the hand sanitiser work, but they might make your hands smell nice. Toasted marshmallow. Ethanol based hand sanitiser might also contain bitter or bad tasting compounds to stop the small percentage of desperate people out there who are willing to drink it because well, it is alcohol.

So we're back to the question. Do these chemical goo recipes really kill 99.99% of germs? Well, those numbers are usually results of lab testing, but real life is messier. And the effectiveness of hand sanitiser varies on how oily or dirty your hands are, how much alcohol is in there and which germs you're actually talking about. Under ideal conditions, some disease causing germs really do get zapped at that rate, but others don't. You should keep in mind, hand sanitisers work best when in combination with a hand washing regimen because they don't physically remove dirt and gunk from your hands. So don't forget that soap and water.

What are you waiting for? Click here to buy hand sanitiser for you, your workplace, your home, or even get some sent to your loved ones

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