• By DeeDee Stiepan

Mayo Clinic Minute: Is your hand sanitizer safe and effective?

September 3, 2020

Washing with soap and water is the best way to rid your hands of visible dirt and mucus, which may contain viruses like the one that causes COVID-19. But, when on the go, using hand rub or liquid hand sanitizer is the second best option.

There are a lot of different types of hand sanitizers, but how do you know what products are safe? Dr. Gregory Poland, a Mayo Clinic infectious diseases expert, says there are a few things you'll want to check the label for, starting with the type of alcohol it contains.

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"You want to select a hand sanitizer with at least 60%, ideally 70%, ethyl alcohol in it," says Dr. Poland.

While ethyl alcohol is safe and effective, some products may contain other types of alcohol that should be avoided.

"You do not want a hand sanitizer that has methyl alcohol. Methyl alcohol is a toxin and should not be used. Unfortunately, what unethical producers are doing, in order to meet the demand and sell their product for hand sanitizer, is they're using methyl alcohol, which is very cheap," says Dr. Poland.

Another ingredient to avoid is 1-propanol alcohol, which is also a toxin.

Finally, check the expiration date. Like most products, hand sanitizers become less effective over time as the alcohol content wanes.

"Generally speaking, the ethanol-based hand sanitizers have about a three-year window," says Dr. Poland.

Consumers should check the Food and Drug Administration website to view a list of hand sanitizer products that should not be used.


Information in this post was accurate at the time of its posting. Due to the fluid nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, scientific understanding, along with guidelines and recommendations, may have changed since the original publication date

Check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website for additional updates on COVID-19. For more information and all your COVID-19 coverage, go to the Mayo Clinic News Network and mayoclinic.org.

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