Your Hand Sanitizer Isn't Working If It Doesn't Have These Four Things

These are the precise four ingredients for effective hand sanitizer, according to experts.

If you've been to the pharmacy over the last couple months, you've probably noticed something important was missing—other than toilet paper and dish soap, that is. Hand sanitizer has been in short supply since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, with consumers eagerly snatching up one of the most effective protections against the virus (when hand washing is not a possibility). Some people have even taken to making their own hand sanitizer or ordering bottles online from unlikely sources. It's important to note, however, that not all hand sanitizer is created equal: There are four ingredients in hand sanitizer, and it's those four only that make it an essential item in the fight against coronavirus. And for more on the proper use of hand sanitizer, make sure you know The No. 1 Thing You Should Never Do With Your Hand Sanitizer.

Ethanol or isopropyl alcohol

bottle of ethanol alcohol in a lab

According to guidelines from the World Health Organization (WHO), the first hand sanitizer ingredient is alcohol. Hand sanitizer should be produced with either ethanol (at a 96 percent concentration) or isopropyl alcohol (at a 99.8 percent concentration). That ensures that when everything is mixed together, your hand sanitizer should have more than the 60 percent ethanol or 70 percent isopropyl alcohol that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says is necessary to kill germs. And for more on the role of alcohol in hand sanitizer, learn The No. 1 Thing About Your Hand Sanitizer You Need to Know.

Hydrogen peroxide

bottle of hydrogen peroxide in front of cotton balls

The next ingredient is hydrogen peroxide (at a 3 percent concentration). Hydrogen peroxide is a sanitizing agent that destroys germ cells, helping it deactivate viruses like COVID-19, as well as killing bacteria.


bottle of glycerine in front of other bottles

The third hand sanitizer ingredient is glycerol (at a 98 percent concentration). This is what gives sanitizer the consistency you're familiar with, making it easier to carry around and rub into your skin. And if all the hand washing and use of hand sanitizer has you suffering, try these 7 Things You Should Be Doing to Deal With Your Dry Hands.


close up of boiling water in clear pan

And the fourth ingredient in hand sanitizer is, simply enough, water. But as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) notes, the water has to be sterile, which is why WHO's ingredients list mentions "sterile distilled or boiled cold water." As neuroscientist and stem cell biologist Samantha Yammine, PhD, noted on Twitter, "There is some water in hand sanitizer that helps to dissolve proteins inside pathogens so the alcohol can then kill them." And if you're wondering what hand sanitizer can't do, discover 12 Surprising Germs Hand Sanitizer Won't Kill.

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