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Updated August 2022
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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Buying guide for Best hand sanitizers

When you spend time in public places, you know how important it is to keep your hands clean to avoid the spread of germs, illnesses, and bacteria. Since a sink isn’t always within reach to wash your hands, hand sanitizer is an effective defense to keep germs at bay. Hand sanitizers are waterless hygiene products that are convenient, especially if you’re a commuter, educator, or healthcare worker. Some formulas are over 99% effective at reducing the spread of illness-causing germs.

There’s a wide variety of hand sanitizers to choose from. If you want a cost-effective formula, stick with traditional alcohol-based sanitizers to get the most bang for your buck. However, there are also specialty formulas with organic ingredients and chemical alternatives if you have allergies, sensitive skin, or are looking for a hand sanitizer that’s safe for kids.

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It’s not the best idea to keep hand sanitizer in your car because the bottle may explode in extreme temperatures. If you always want to have hand sanitizer with you, it’s better to keep it in your purse or gym bag.

Key considerations

Formula

Most hand sanitizers come in gel form. Unlike other gels like hair gel, hand sanitizer usually has a watery consistency and drips off quickly if you don’t work it into your hands. Gels can get messy, but they tend to be the least expensive hand sanitizers. As a result, gel hand sanitizers are often found in extra-large dispensers in classrooms, offices, and hospitals.

Liquid and foam hand sanitizers both have lightweight consistencies that are ideal for travel and personal use. Not only are they less messy than gels, there’s little wasted product with these hand sanitizers. They’re usually significantly more expensive, however. That said, some consumers find real value with liquid and foam sanitizers as a little goes a long way.

Expert tip
The recommended hand sanitizer has at least 60% in alcohol concentration. If a hand sanitizer has at least that amount, then you can use whichever hand sanitizer you prefer.
BestReviews Medical Expert

Dispenser

  • Spray: Travel bottles of hand sanitizer usually have spray nozzles. Though it takes a couple sprays to get the desired amount of sanitizer on your hands, spray bottles are ultra-convenient, especially since there is little mess.
  • Squeeze: These bottles have a flip-top cap that allows you to squeeze hand sanitizer into your hands. Squeeze bottles are generally less expensive than spray bottles.
  • Foam: Foam bottles are popular for everyday use, and they are generally full-size. Like foam hand soaps, foam hand sanitizers usually come in pump bottles. It’s easy to control how much product comes out at once.
  • Pump: Pump dispensers are popular for extra-large bottles of hand sanitizer. They have a traditional pump that takes a few full presses to dispense the desired amount of sanitizer, which is usually in gel form.

How to use hand sanitizer

No matter which hand sanitizer you choose, you’ll need to dispense an adequate amount for it to be effective. When it comes to gel sanitizer, a quarter-size amount is sufficient. For any spray or foam sanitizer, the packaging will indicate how many pumps are required, which is usually one to four. Once you have the sanitizer in your hands, rub it in as though you are washing your hands with soap. Hand sanitizer dries in seconds, leaving no residue behind, so you can continue with normal activities, protected from germs.

Features

Ingredients

The active ingredient in most hand sanitizers is ethyl alcohol, making up between 60% and 70% of the formula. Inactive ingredients vary between hand sanitizers, though most contain water, glycerin, acetate, and fragrances. Many hand sanitizers also include moisturizing ingredients in the form of oils, aloe vera, or vitamin E.

Expert tip
Hand sanitizing is a good idea if there isn't a hand washing station nearby, but hand washing remains better at eliminating chemicals and microbes.
BestReviews Medical Expert

Specialty formulas

There are hand sanitizers with specialty formulas that are alcohol-free or free of the harsh chemicals found in regular sanitizers. Alcohol-free formulas won’t dry out or burn your skin, so they’re ideal for children or those with sensitive skin. Other hand sanitizers aim to be as chemical-free as possible and are free of parabens, sulfates, phthalates, dyes, and fragrances. These sanitizers tend to have plant-derived ingredients in place of chemicals.

Hand sanitizer prices

Inexpensive

For budget-friendly value packs of hand sanitizers, expect to spend between $8 and $12. You’ll get travel-size bottles or eight-ounce pump-bottle sanitizers. These hand sanitizers come from recognized brands with solid reputations for effective formulas.

Mid-range

If you need a sizable amount of hand sanitizer, expect to spend between $12 and $25 on a value pack. In this price range, you can find 32-ounce bottles of hand sanitizers, but they’re usually from lesser-known brands. Many of these bottles are refills with regular caps, though some have pumps.

Expensive

At the top of the price range, between $25 and $40, are multi-packs from leading brands. You’ll find plenty of 32-ounce bottles of hand sanitizers from respected brands as well as specialty formulas and liquid and foam consistencies.

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Expert Tip
A few shortcomings of alcohol hand sanitizer are its short-lived antimicrobial effect and weak activity against protozoa and bacterial spores.
BestReviews Medical Expert

Tips

  • Use hand sanitizer after petting animals. After petting animals, use hand sanitizer to keep germs at bay until you can thoroughly wash your hands.
  • Keep hand sanitizer in your bag if you visit garage sales. If you go to a lot of garage and estate sales, especially on the same day, carry hand sanitizer with you to keep your hands clean as you’re touching many things throughout the day.
  • Avoid wiping hands on clothing after use. Some hand sanitizers have dyes or chemicals that can permanently stain fabric. Instead of wiping your hands on clothing, use a tissue or handkerchief to wipe away excess if necessary.
  • Keep hand sanitizer in homes with immune-compromised individuals. If someone in your home has a compromised immune system, keep hand sanitizer around the house. Remind guests to use the hand sanitizer prior to coming into contact with your family member.
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If your hands feel dry after using hand sanitizer, apply a moisturizing lotion to keep your hands smooth and free from cracking.

FAQ

Q. Are there eco-friendly and ethical hand sanitizers?

A. There are a number of hand sanitizers with formulas derived from plant-based ingredients, rather than harsh chemicals. If you’re looking for ethically sourced products, there are many hand sanitizers that are cruelty-free and fair trade, and these brands often list their testing labs on the packaging or on their websites. Some hand sanitizers have biodegradable formulas and are also packaged in recyclable containers.

Expert Tip
Hand lotion can help with dry skin from constantly using hand sanitizer.
BestReviews Medical Expert

Q. Are alcohol-free hand sanitizers less effective?

A. The CDC reports that alcohol-free hand sanitizers aren’t as effective for combatting certain germs and microbes. They’re still considered effective as antiseptics, but their scope is somewhat limited compared to alcohol-based formulas. On the upside, many alcohol-free formulas stay active longer – sometimes up to six hours – for long-term effectiveness. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers have much shorter windows, so reapplication is often necessary.

Q. Why does my skin burn when I use hand sanitizer?

A. You could have open wounds or broken skin on your hands, which will sting if they come into contact with hand sanitizer, particularly alcohol-based formulas. Some hand sanitizers also have parabens, which can cause a burning sensation for some individuals with sensitive skin. If you’re experiencing burning when using hand sanitizer, switch to an alcohol-free formula with gentle ingredients that are suitable for sensitive skin.

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