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Non-alcohol and alcohol based hand sanitiser: a comparison

Due to the current coronavirus pandemic many of us have become accustomed to hand sanitiser- good hand hygiene quite literally saves lives, and nowadays that has been more apparent than ever.

From hand sanitiser dispensers in public spaces to the hand sanitiser bottles we carry in our bags, hand sanitiser usage and sales has jumped by 600% in 2020, as reported by the Wall Street Journal. 

Nevertheless, many of us still often run into trouble when it comes to picking what type of hand sanitiser is the best – non-alcohol or alcohol based hand sanitiser?

The reality is, both alcohol-based and non-alcohol-based hand sanitisers and sanitisation products do an incredibly good job when it comes to getting rid of germs and killing all bacteria. However, there are some differences between them- we will compare and contrast those below, in order to make your decision-making process as easy as possible. 

What is the actual difference between alcohol and non-alcohol based hand sanitiser?

First and foremost, let us have a look at the actual difference in the make-up of alcohol-based and non-alcohol-based hand sanitisers. In essence, both products work the same way: the solution breaks down the bacteria and germs through a process of denaturation, permanently killing them, eliminating their ability to spread and make us sick. 

That basically means that both alcohol-based and non-alcohol-based sanitisers ‘eat’ at the protein and the genetic makeup of the virus or bacteria, that way completely eradicating the germs. 

Alcohol-based products will contain one of two active ingredients: alcohol or isopropanol. Both are effective antiseptic products that kill germs and bacteria. Non-alcohol-based solutions contain benzalkonium, which, just like alcohol or isopropanol, is an antiseptic. 

People often have the misconception that alcohol-based sanitisation products are stronger than non-alcohol-based ones, yet that is simply not true. Both sanitising solutions are 99.999% effective. Alcohol-based and non-alcohol-based sanitisers do the same job, except one has alcohol, while the other does not. 

Be mindful of the space for hand sanitising products

It is imperative to consider the space and the environment where the hand sanitiser and sanitisation products will be placed and used. This factor is incredibly important, particularly for facilities such as schools, creches, Montesorris, play and youth centres, or any other spaces that are frequently visited by children and young people.  

For alcohol-based disinfectant to be effective, the alcohol content of the solution needs to be between 60% to 95%, and such a high alcohol content poses a serious toxic poisoning hazard if ingested. 

According to the National Poisons Information Centre, nearly 300 calls were received relating to children who had ingested hand sanitiser, in addition to the hundreds of calls they have received after kids had drank alcohol products and bleach. The figures show that almost half of the incidents related to children under the age of four. Consultant in paediatric emergency medicine Dr Paddy Fitzpatrick warns that any ingestion of cleaning agents or sanitisation products can cause serious damage to children, as the consumption of such high levels of alcohol can lead to acute alcohol poisoning in both children and adults. 

If ingested or used inappropriately, alcohol-based products are harmful to the skin, eyes, and the respiratory system. Most dispensing mechanisms for hand sanitizers are easy to open and are placed in accessible locations to encourage use, therefore presenting a hazard, particularly for young children.

Therefore, such facilities might opt  to use a non-alcohol-based disinfectant which is non-toxic. Unlike alcohol-based disinfectants, non-alcohol solutions are not harmful to the skin, eyes, or the respiratory system, making it an overall safer option. It does not pose a problem if it comes into contact with our eyes and skin or is accidentally ingested. 

Consider the hand sanitiser usage frequency

It is also of value to think about how often you will be using the hand sanitiser or disinfectant product. If you work from home for example, you will naturally use less sanitiser- in cases like these you can opt for both alcohol-based and non-alcohol-based solutions. 

However, if you will be using hand sanitiser frequently throughout the day, you might consider opting for a non-alcohol-based solution, just like the Hygiene Solutions’ own non-alcohol-based hand sanitiser bottles that come in 50ml and 600ml quantities to best suit your needs. 

A common side-effect often associated with the repeated use of alcohol-based hand sanitisers is dry and chapped skin, as well as severe irritation. This is caused by the fact that alcohol strips away the oils in your skin that retain moisture. The absence of these oils can lead to increased skin irritation on the hands, which in some cases could even lead to dermatitis.

Choosing non-alcohol-based disinfectants eliminates such concerns and is safer to use in spaces where hand sanitiser products need to be used often, such as hospitals and other healthcare facilities. Hygiene Solutions’ non-alcohol-based sanitiser is dermatologically tested and naturally moisturising. Its water-based formula has no odour or fragrance and is designed for everyday use, formulated in a way that leaves no sticky residue. 

Transport, storage, and local regulations

Another big thing to consider when it comes to choosing which hand-sanitiser solution best suits your needs would be its transport, storage, and the local regulations. 

Alcohol-based sanitiser is a highly flammable solution. Not only is it a risk during transportation, but it is also difficult to store too, as there are many strict regulations governing where and how much solution can be stored on the premises. 

Facilities need to take additional care to ensure they adhere to local rules and regulations when dealing with such flammable compounds. In environments where a substantial amount of hand sanitiser product is required (such as hospitals, nursing homes and other healthcare facilities) a non-alcohol-based sanitiser could be a more feasible solution, as it does not pose a fire hazard neither during transportation nor its storage. 

Other factors

Although we have offered a comprehensive review of factors to be considered when choosing whether to opt for alcohol-based or non-alcohol-based solutions, there will of course be many other aspects that come into play. 

For instance, your choice of solution may depend on what delivery system you use; for example, our Handle Hygiene door handle sanitising system only works with non-alcohol-sanitiser, whereas our freestanding sanitising units work both with alcohol-based and non-alcohol-based products. 

Alcohol-based solutions can be damaging to floors and walls, staining the areas where dispensers may drip or leak. Choosing a non-alcohol-based solution could be a good option for museums or old architectural monuments and buildings. 

As detailed in the article, one sanitising solution is not more beneficial over the other. However, it is important to consider all the factors that will come into play when making a decision that will best suit your needs. Whether it be the environment, frequency, transport and storage- it’s good to do your research in advance to find the best hygiene solution for you.