6 Subtle Signs You Need to Replace Your Hand Sanitizer

Here are the things that make your hand sanitizer less effective at killing coronavirus.

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Having good personal hygiene is extremely important to help protect against the spread of COVID-19. While washing your hands with soap and water is the best method in killing the coronavirus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also approves the use of hand sanitizer. However, there are certain factors that may impact the effectiveness of the convenient disinfecting product that you need to be aware of. With that, these are the subtle signs that you need to replace your hand sanitizer. And for more insights about hand hygiene, check out The No. 1 Thing About Your Hand Sanitizer You Need to Know.

1
You left the cap open on the bottle.

Using hand sanitizer on grey background. Personal hygiene concept
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If you accidentally leave your hand sanitizer open for an extended period of time, you could be weakening its potency, according to Abe Navas, general manager of Emily's Maids, a cleaning service in Dallas, Texas.

"Alcohol evaporates quickly, so if you have a sanitizer that you forgot to close for a couple of days, you should worry about its effectiveness," he says.

2
You've exposed it to direct sunlight for hours.

bottle of blue alcohol gel on table near door prepared for incoming guest , preventing corona virus
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According to the CDC, alcohol-based hand sanitizer usually contains ethyl alcohol, which "evaporates at room temperature." So, if you store your hand sanitizer in direct sunlight for long hours, the alcohol content may evaporate faster. That also means it is dangerous to leave it in a hot car for days or weeks at a time, Greg Boyce, PhD, an associate professor in the Department of Chemistry and Physics at Florida Gulf Coast University, told WZVN. Instead, store your hand sanitizer in a cool, dry environment. And for more hand-washing knowledge, check out The Biggest Myth About Your Hand Soap You Can Stop Believing.

3
It is less than 60 percent alcohol.

Ultra Close-Up Macro Artsy Shot of Antiseptic Gel Hand Sanitizer Label Purpose with Alcohol and Aloe Vera Bubbles To Prevent the Spread of COVID SARS nCoV 19 Coronavirus Swine Flu H7N9 Influenza Illness During Cold and Flu Season stock photo
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Kevin Kathrotia, chief operating officer of Millennium Neonatology, reminds people that the CDC recommends using a hand sanitizer that has an alcohol content of at least 60 percent. And even if your sanitizer starts at 60 percent, if enough of the alcohol evaporates over time, the concentration could fall below 60 percent, making the sanitizer less effective.

"Using a hand sanitizer that's no longer at least 60 percent alcohol won't do anything bad to you, but it might not kill all the germs on your hands," Kathrotia says. And for the ingredients to look for when buying a bottle, check out Your Hand Sanitizer Isn't Working If It Doesn't Have These Four Things.

4
It's causing dry skin on your hands.

woman using liquid hand sanitizer. girl using alcohol-based gel to disinfect hand skin against virus, germs, bacteria for healthy lifestyle
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There may be ingredients in your hand sanitizer that are irritating your skin, explains Leann Poston, MD, medical expert for Ikon Health.

"Hand sanitizer has alcohol, glycerin, hydrogen peroxide, and water making up its main ingredients," Poston says. "These chemicals can be very drying to the skin leading to skin cracking and irritation. Cracks in the skin allow bacteria and viruses to breach the natural barrier the skin provides."

5
It's past its expiration date.

Male Hand Pumping Gel Hand Sanitizer with Alcohol and Aloe Vera To Prevent the Spread of COVID SARS nCoV 19 Coronavirus Swine Flu H7N9 Influenza Illness During Cold and Flu Season
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Yes, hand sanitizers do have a shelf life. According to Vanessa Thomas, a cosmetic chemist and founder of Freelance Formulations, because they are over-the-counter products, sanitizers are required to have an expiration date listed on the package.

"Usually, hand sanitizer is good for two to three years based on the stability data of the product," she says. "Each hand sanitizer must have a stability test conducted to test the shelf life." Thomas goes on to explain that it's usually safe to assume your hand sanitizer has gone bad after three years, but recommends checking your specific bottle in case it expires sooner.

6
You notice it emitting a new or unusual smell.

woman use both hands close mouth for not commenting or refusing on gray background
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If you can't find the expiration date on the bottle, a good way to judge if your hand sanitizer has passed its prime is by giving it a good whiff, says Teri Amsler of Moss Hill, a skincare company based in Louisville, Kentucky. When hand sanitizer expires, certain ingredients become less effective and may emit an odor that wasn't there prior to expiration. And for more potential problems with this particular product, check out This Is the One Reason Why Your Hand Sanitizer Isn't Working.

Best Life is constantly monitoring the latest news as it relates to COVID-19 in order to keep you healthy, safe, and informed. Here are the answers to your most burning questions, the ways you can stay safe and healthy, the facts you need to know, the risks you should avoid, the myths you need to ignore,and the symptoms to be aware of. Click here for all of our COVID-19 coverage, and sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.
Kali Coleman
Kali is an assistant editor at Best Life. Read more
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