Does Hand Sanitiser Kill Viruses? What Else is it Effective Against?

Does Hand Sanitizer Kill Viruses? What Else is it Effective Against?
12 September 2021

Does Hand Sanitiser Kill Viruses? What Else is it Effective Against?

Does Hand Sanitizer Kill Viruses? What Else is it Effective Against?

Is hand sanitiser effective? The question is on everyone’s minds while we each do our part to overcome Covid-19. When asking ‘does hand sanitiser work?’ the answer depends on what you’re trying to achieve. For many people, the primary objective of using hand gel is to prevent cross-contamination of the Covid-19 virus. The truth is that hand sanitiser is highly effective at killing bacteria, fungi, and other viruses too.

Using hand sanitiser by desk

Why can’t hand sanitiser kill 100% of germs?

Hand sanitiser is highly effective at killing harmful microorganisms, but it’s impossible for them to kill all the germs on your hands. Alcohol in hand gel kills germs by denaturing them (breaking down the cell walls), but hand gel is ineffective against some germs, like Norovirus. The same goes for other methods of killing cells: bleach, fire, and even radiation are effective at killing some microorganisms but not all.

Another reason hand gel claims to only kill 99.99% of germs is due to physical reach. The surface of your hands is not completely flat, there are many tiny crevices in the grooves of your skin, and pores from which hairs grow. The reason the HSE recommends handwashing with soap and water as the primary method of cleaning your hands is that doing so for the right amount of time (20 seconds) allows soap to reach deep into the wrinkles of your skin. 

In order to be transparent with consumers, companies cannot say their hand sanitiser kills 100% of germs so tests are conducted to determine exactly what percentage of bacteria can be eliminated with the use of a certain product, and then this is translated into a percentage.

In order to make the claim that hand gel can kill 99.999% of bacteria, a product must be tested and then reviewed and approved to conform to the EN1500 Standard, like Sterosan Hand Sanitiser.

Hand sanitiser spray and wearing mask

Find answers to common questions about how hand sanitiser should be used in our blog.

Does hand sanitiser kill germs better than soap?

As above, hand washing is recommended as the best way to keep your hands clean. Washing your hands with lots of soap and water for at least 20 seconds, using the NHS hand washing recommended technique ensures you penetrate into the cracks, crevices, and pores of your hands to remove bacteria. 

But there are lots of times when you can’t wash your hands—on public transport or out and about, so having hand sanitiser near by is important. When you can’t wash your hands, hand sanitiser is the next best thing. 

Many hand sanitisers are tested to kill 99.999% of bacteria which proves they are of a certain level of quality, like Sterosan.

The Sterosan 50ml hand sanitiser is designed to be compact and easy to carry in your pocket or a bag. It also comes with a clip so it can be clipped to a belt, or coat—useful for helping children keep hold of their hand gel and remember to use it.

Hand gel is highly effective when used correctly. Find answers to questions about hand gel safety in our blog. 


Does hand sanitiser kill germs?

When answering the question ‘does hand gel kill germs?’ it’s important to understand what germs are. The term ‘germs’ covers a wide range of microorganisms, including bacteria, viruses, fungi, protozoans, and helminths. Germs can be found on surfaces, in the air, in human and animal bodies, in soil, in water, and virtually anywhere else. 

Many germs are harmless, but some can cause illnesses. These are called infectious agents. So, does hand sanitiser really kill germs? Yes, it can kill some, but not all germs. When a hand sanitiser claims to kill “99.999% of germs” it means that it kills a range of bacteria, viruses, and pathogens that it has been tested and proven effective against.


Does hand sanitiser kill viruses?

Does alcohol hand gel kill viruses? It is proven to be effective against some. Hand sanitiser kills viruses by dissolving the lipid membrane that protects them. When the lipid membrane dissolves the virus’s genetic material is exposed and killed. A study on the effectiveness of hand gel found that it works at inactivating enveloped viruses.

Enveloped and nonenveloped viruses diagram

Examples of enveloped viruses:

  • Coronavirus
  • Herpesvirus
  • Hepatitis D
  • Poxvirus

But not all viruses are enveloped, so does antibacterial hand gel kill viruses that lack a lipid membrane? A 2020 study found hand sanitiser to be moderately effective against some non-enveloped viruses, but the hand gel being used must have a 70%–80% alcohol content.

Examples of non-enveloped viruses:

  • Norovirus
  • Rhinovirus
  • Poliovirus

    Why is Norovirus resistant to alcohol-based hand sanitiser?

    Norovirus is a non-enveloped virus with a protein membrane protecting it, as opposed to the lipid membrane of an enveloped virus. The protein membrane around a norovirus cell is not broken down by hand sanitiser and so it is not effective in protecting against infection. The best way to avoid catching Norovirus is to wash your hands for 20 seconds minimum and scrub underneath your fingernails.

    Does hand sanitiser kill Rhinovirus?

    Rhinovirus is what we know more generally as a common cold. A 2010 study found that hand gel is not effective against Rhinovirus. However, this did not take into consideration the percentage of hand to hand transmission versus transmission via droplets from the mouth and nose.

    As Rhinovirus is transmitted through droplets as well as through physical contact, the best way to avoid it is through regular hand washing and using a respirator mask such as a FFP3 mask or KN95 mask.

    Does hand sanitiser kill HPV?

    Does hand sanitiser kill wart virus? Researchers at Penn State College of Medicine and Brigham Young University found that hand sanitiser is not effective at inactivating Human Papillioma Virus. The researchers found that "Chemical disinfectants used in the hospitals and other healthcare settings have absolutely no effect on killing human papillomavirus".

    Does hand sanitiser work on cold sores?

    Some people think that applying hand sanitiser to a cold sore will help it to dry out and heal more quickly, but it’s best not to use hand gel on a cold sore. The alcohol content in hand gel means it is a harsh substance and can be detrimental to the delicate facial skin. 

    Hand gel applied to a cold sore could cause the skin to become irritated and even crack, leaving you prone to infection and extending the life of the cold sore. 

    Does hand sanitiser cause warts?

    Hand sanitiser doesn’t cause warts but it might irritate or dry out your skin if you’re using a low-quality product. This might give the appearance of warts on the skin when really it is just dry chapped skin that is cracking or flaking off. 

    To avoid this it’s best to use a hand sanitiser with moisturing properties that keeps your hands in good condition.


    Does alcohol hand sanitiser kill fungus?

    A study published in the Cambridge University Press in 2015 found that hand sanitiser with 60% alcohol content and emollients was effective at killing 7 different species of fungus after a 30-second exposure. So there is evidence to say that hand gel can kill fungus.

    Does hand sanitiser kill ringworm?

    Can hand sanitiser kill ringworm? Yes but only when it’s on the surface of your skin. Ringworm is a highly infectious fungus that affects animals and humans. Often a pet will bring ringworm into the home which will then need to be completely disinfected. 

    If you have some ringworm on your hands you can use hand sanitiser to kill it, but ringworm on porous surfaces like clothing and carpets will need to be washed out.

    Never put hand sanitiser on your pets skin or fur. It can cause irritation or they ingest it by licking the area.

    Stero-san Hand Sanitiser has an alcohol content of 70% making it highly effective at killing fungi such as ringworm, and is made with emollients to keep skin hydrated.

    Find out about proper veterinary cleaning protocols to get rid of ringworm in our blog. 

    It is capable of killing 99.999% of bacteria and germs and prevents the transmission of pathogens and viruses.

    Can hand sanitiser kill yeast infection?

    According to the CDC, hand sanitiser is effective against Candida Auris, which is a type of fungus that causes a yeast infection. So using hand sanitiser is a good way to decrease the risk of transmitting a yeast infection on your hands. 

    Never apply hand sanitiser to your vagina or penis. The skin of the genitals is much more delicate than that of the hands and could be irritated further, exacerbating the problem.

    Hand sanitiser in spray bottle

    Bacteria, Parasites and other Microorganisms

    Does hand sanitiser kill sperm?

    Does hand sanitiser kill sperm cells? Yes, but it should never be used as a spermicide. Although ingredients in hand sanitiser such as isopropyl alcohol and glycerin will kill sperm cells in the same way that kills viruses, it’s not safe for use on the genitals. 

    The ingredient that makes up the most content in a bottle of hand gel is isopropyl alcohol which is harmful if used inside the vagina or on the penis. The skin on the penis and inside the vagina is very different to the skin on your hands—it is much thinner, more delicate, and maintains a specific pH level. Putting hand gel on this skin will cause irritation, discomfort, and pain.

    Does hand sanitiser kill threadworm eggs?

    Does hand sanitiser work on pinworms, or their eggs? Pinworms, otherwise known as threadworms, are tiny parasites that infect the gastrointestinal tract—commonly in children. Medicine can kill pinworms but not their eggs which can survive outside of the body for up to two weeks.

    Hand sanitiser is not effective against threadworms or their eggs, the best thing to do is wash hands regularly, scrub under fingernails, and wash clothing and bedsheets on hot cycles regularly. Keeping everything clean including surfaces, carpets, toothbrushes, and encouraging children to wash their hands is effective.

    Will hand sanitiser kill pink eye germs?

    Pink eye, otherwise known as conjunctivitis, is a minor infection that affects the white of the eye and the inside of the eyelid. Conjunctivitis is caused by a range of different viruses, bacteria, pollen, dust, smoke, and cosmetics. Some cases of conjunctivitis require medicine to get better. 

    Because of this, it’s not easy to say that hand gel will certainly kill germs that cause pink eye on your hands. The best thing to do is maintain a routine of regular hand washing and avoid touching your eyes.

    You should never put hand gel in or near your eyes, the alcohol content in hand gel can damage the delicate membrane across your eye and cause irritation, burning, and even loss of sight.

    Does hand sanitiser kill lice?

    Evidence suggests that hand gel isn’t effective against head lice. A study found that lice immersed in 70% ethanol recovered within a few hours. So the alcoholic content of hand gel might only be enough to stun them.

    In another study isopropyl myristate, an ester of isopropyl alcohol found in some hand gels was found to have an eradication rate of 82% after 14 days when tested on 168 people with head lice. 

    While some of the ingredients in hand gel can be used to kill head lice, hand gel is not the most appropriate substance to use. Use a de-lousing shampoo and wash hands, especially under fingernails regularly. Wash hairbrushes in hot water, and hats and scarves regularly on hot cycles.

    Does hand sanitiser kill mites?

    A study conducted on the effectiveness of alcohol-based rub against scabies (mites) transmission, skin scrapings were taken at 3, 17, and 44 hours after having applying alcohol-based hand sanitiser

    The results of the study found that hand sanitiser has no effect on mites. Hand washing is also ineffective against mites, the only way to get rid of them is with a prescription topical lotion or tablets.

    Does hand sanitiser kill E. coli?

    A study published by the American Society for Microbiology found that E. coli was susceptible to hand sanitisers. So there is evidence that hand sanitiser kills E. coli, and can be used to disinfect hands before eating and drinking if you’re not near a sink.

    Does hand sanitiser kill Salmonella?

    A 2015 study found alcohol-based hand sanitiser to be effective at decreasing populations of Salmonella on peanut and pistachio shells, but this was only after a 48-hour incubation period. This suggests that, although hand sanitiser may be effective against Salmonella, the time frame that it requires to work doesn’t make it a viable option. 

    Hand gel is highly effective when used correctly. Find answers to questions about hand gel safety in our blog.

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