Hands play a key role in the people-to-people transmission of microbial pathogens, and hand hygiene is the primary measure to prevent cross-infection at home or in any other environment[. Improvement in hand hygiene practices reduces health care-associated infection and the burden of disease in the community. However, the impact of hand hygiene in reducing infections relies on multiple factors, including the type of hand-cleansing agent used. Hand sanitizers have many advantages over handwashing with soap and water: it requires less time, acts faster, and is more efficacious, more convenient, and better tolerated by the skin.
In a time when the effectiveness of sanitizer has never been so critical, this begs the question is liquid sanitizer as effective as traditional gels?
How are they different?
To answer this question, let’s look briefly at the composition of hand sanitizer. All hand sanitizer at its core is made up of two ingredients: alcohol and something to carry that alcohol onto your hands. From homemade to hospital-grade, all sanitizers are simply different delivery methods of alcohol disinfectant that takes care of the germs on your hands. For gel sanitizer, thickeners like polyacrylic acid and polyethylene glycol are added to congeal the alcohol solution into the gel you are familiar with. In liquid sanitizer, water (usually with glycerin as a moisturizing agent) is added to reduce the alcohol concentration and bam, it’s ready for your hands.
Next, it is important to note how sanitizer kills germs on your hands. Contrary to popular belief, (speaking mostly to myself), hand sanitizer does not immediately kill germs upon touching your hands. Bacteria and viruses that cover your hands have an outer coat of protein that contains the agents that make you sick. The job of hand sanitizer is to break down this protein shell and release the contents, making them incapable of causing you any harm. This process takes a certain amount of time. This is why the composition of your hand sanitizer is important.
HOW DOES THEIR COMPOSITION AFFECT THEIR GERM-KILLING ABILITY?
With gel sanitizer, the density of the thickeners used increases the time it takes to dry and also increases the time it takes for the alcohol to get up close and personal with bacteria and viruses. This means that the process of dissolving the protein shells of the bacteria and viruses takes longer because the alcohol gets to its microbial target more slowly when surrounded by the gel thickeners.
Unlike gel sanitizers, liquid sanitizers do not contain thickeners that slow the drying process or inhibit the alcohol from reaching the bacteria and viruses on your hands. The result of using water in lieu of thickeners is that liquid hand sanitizers kill germs in around 15 seconds twice as fast as gel sanitizers that have the same amount of alcohol.
SO WHICH IS MORE EFFECTIVE?
In short, both liquid and gel hand sanitizer work but liquid sanitizer are effective much faster. It’s a personal choice but in these Covid times why do I want germs or viruses sitting on my hand for a second longer than they need to. And sometimes because it takes a longer time for gel hand sanitizer to act this could further result in decreased efficacy as some people may quickly rub it on their hands, then wipe it off before it has the chance to do its job. This greatly reduces its effectiveness. It is important to educate users that they need to be a bit patient when using gel hand sanitizer.
THEN HOW DO I CHOOSE A HAND SANITIZER?
When picking a hand sanitizer, whether it be liquid, gel, person, place, or thing, there is one critical factor to consider: the alcohol content. According to the CDC, if the alcohol content of your sanitizer isn’t above 60%, you can’t be certain it is killing every germ you carry around on your hands.
If you don’t like residue on your hands: Liquid sanitizers are recorded to leave less residue on a person’s skin, but this is dependent on the manufacturer. Manufacturers develop hand sanitizers with different ingredients and formulations thereby affecting the end product’s texture and consistency.
If you want your hand sanitizer to double up as a disinfectant:
Liquid hand sanitizer works better if dispensed out of a spray bottle and can be great to keep in your car or home to disinfect not only your hands, but your phone, keys, steering wheel, and door handles, among other surfaces that may become cross-contaminated through contact. Gel hand sanitizers cannot be used for the above.
If you want to use what hospitals use: Liquid hand sanitizers is what all hospitals use for the same reasons as stated above.
Beware: When does a hand sanitizer not work?
If your hands are visibly soiled or greasy, sanitizer may not be as effective be it liquid or gel. So in a community settings where playing, cooking, gardening or other outdoor activities are the order of the day, it’s important to first wash your hands with soap and water and then use a hand sanitizer.