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Alcohol-Free Hand Sanitizer: As Effective as Alcohol-Based

In this post:

  • To date, the CDC has only recommended alcohol-based hand sanitizers with an alcohol content of 60% or greater for use in fighting Covid-19.
  • A new study shows that alcohol-free hand sanitizers are just as effective against the Coronavirus as their alcohol-based counterparts.
  • Alcohol-free hand sanitizers rapidly inactivate SARS-CoV-2, making them potentially useful for controlling SARS-CoV-2 spread in hospitals and the community.


We're all aware that if we aren't able to wash our hands with soap and water that we should have hand sanitizer on hand to kill germs, which is a key piece of hand hygiene knowledge, especially during this pandemic. 


Alcohol-Free Hand Sanitizer is As Effective as Alcohol-Based Hand Sanitizer

A new Brigham Young University study, recently published in The Journal of Hospital Infection, finds that alcohol-free hand sanitizer is just as effective at disinfecting surfaces from the COVID-19 virus as alcohol-based products.

The scientists at BYU who conducted the study suspected that the CDC’s preference for alcohol-based hand sanitizer comes from ongoing-yet-limited research on what really works to disinfect SARS-CoV-2 on hands. To explore other options, they treated samples of the novel coronavirus with benzalkonium chloride (often shortened to BZK, BAC or BKC), which is commonly used in alcohol-free hand sanitizers, and other quaternary ammonium compounds regularly found in disinfectants. In most of the test cases, the compounds eliminated at least 99.9% of the virus within 15 seconds.


Does Benzalkonium Chloride Kill COVID?

Benzalkonium Chloride (BZK)  is a wide spectrum quaternary ammonium antibacterial agent that has been used as a hand hygiene antimicrobial for almost 90 years. It has a long history of use in both surface disinfectants used in the food industry and as a skin sanitizer. While you may have never heard of it, BZK is the only FDA-approved hand sanitizer ingredient on the market that doesn’t include alcohol. It’s also the key ingredient in most antibacterial soaps. BKC is also significantly less expensive to produce in effective amounts than alcohol.




Alcohol-Free Hand Sanitizer Benefits

Alcohol-free hand sanitizers, which are also effective against common cold and flu viruses, have a number of advantages over their alcohol-based counterparts:

  • Benzalkonium-based hand sanitizers are less drying to your skin
  • Alcohol-free hand sanitizers are less costly to produce 
  • BZK-based hand sanitizers are non-flammable  
  • Will not corrode surfaces unlike alcohol-based hand sanitizer
  • BZK-based products continue to provide protection well after the solution has dried


Is Alcohol-free Hand Sanitizer Recommended by the CDC?

So far, the CDC is not recommending the use of BZK, even if experts aren’t surprised that it works to kill SARS-CoV-2.  On their side, the FDA has offered expedited approval for the production of alcohol-based sanitizers, which is what allows your local distiller and other unconventional manufacturing plants to produce disinfectants (some with questionable efficacy). Hopefully this new research into the effectiveness of alcohol-free hand sanitizer will help to alter the government's position on their hand hygiene recommendations. 

If BZK were recommended by the CDC, the availability of hand sanitizer would go up, while the costs could go down, since you need far less BZK than alcohol for sanitizer to be effective.  Combine that with the gentleness yet effectiveness of the product against COVID-19, and perhaps more people would adhere to safe hand hygiene.


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