A Beginner’s Guide to Hand Sanitizer: What to Buy and How to Use It
In the first few weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, you probably rushed out to buy hand sanitizer, only to find store shelves completely bare.
Seeing the panic caused by this drop in supply, the FDA began loosening its restrictions on the production of hand sanitizer, allowing everyone from beauty brands to distilleries to begin producing their own sanitizer products.
Now, months into the pandemic, it appears that the FDA’s temporary policies have allowed hand sanitizer to slowly return to store shelves. But while supply is no longer the issue, consumers face the new challenge of finding a product that’s both safe and effective in an increasingly crowded marketplace.
That’s where this guide comes in.
Whether you want to buy hand sanitizer in bulk or simply pick up a few bottles for personal use, this guide will cover everything you need to know about hand sanitizer, including:
- How the coronavirus is spread
- How hand sanitizer works
- How to properly use hand sanitizer
- How to safely store hand sanitizer
- The dangers of homemade hand sanitizer
- How to buy hand sanitizer in bulk
Remember hand sanitizer is an effective way to help reduce the spread of the coronavirus, so you want to make sure the product you buy is doing exactly what it’s supposed to (before you buy five bottles).
How the Coronavirus is Spread
According to the CDC, the virus that causes COVID-19—a coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2—is spread from person to person “mainly through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.” These droplets are more easily spread when people are within close contact, or about six feet of one another.
The virus that causes COVID-19 is very easily spread from person to person, but it may also be spread other ways as well. Studies have found that the virus can live on surfaces for a certain period of time, meaning it may be possible for someone to get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or eyes.
Based on the way to virus is spread, experts recommend washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds whenever possible. If soap and water are not available, using a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol can help you reduce your risk of getting sick and help to prevent spreading germs to others. These guidelines mean that just about everyone should have a bottle of hand sanitizer on them whenever they’re out and unable to wash their hands.
How Hand Sanitizer Works
The reason that you can’t simply forgo washing your hands in favour of using hand sanitizer is simple: hand sanitizer works differently.
When you use soap and water, you’re physically removing germs and other debris. In contrast, hand sanitizer works to breaks up the virus. Hand sanitizer essentially destroys the outer membrane of the virus cell, which kills the cell or makes it unable to reproduce. This process is made possible by the alcohol in the hand sanitizer, which is why alcohol-free hand sanitizers are less effective.
How to Properly Use Hand Sanitizer
Of course, in order for hand sanitizer to do its job, it needs to be applied properly. Luckily it’s pretty simple to use.
To ensure that hand sanitizer is effective, start by removing any rings or jewelry that may trap bacteria. Once your hands are bare, apply a dime-sized amount of the gel to your hands—enough product to cover all surfaces. Once you’ve applied the product, begin rubbing your hands together—palm to palm. To cover every surface of your hands, you can use the palm of one hand to rub hand sanitizer into the back of your other hand and between fingers. Then repeat this same process with the palm of your other hand. Continue rubbing your hands together for about 20 seconds, or until they feel dry.
Remember, never rinse or wipe away hand sanitizer before it’s dry, as that will make the product less effective. Unlike when you wash with soap and water, you shouldn’t need a towel to wipe your hands after using hand sanitizer.
It’s also important to keep in mind that not all hand sanitizer products are created equal. Some alcohol-based hand sanitizers contain added fragrances that can irritate sensitive skin or even cause allergic reactions. Moreover, alcohol is drying, which can also irritate the skin over time.
How to Safely Store Hand Sanitizer
If you’re using hand sanitizer regularly, you’ve got to make sure you’re storing it properly—especially if you buy hand sanitizer in bulk.
This is partly because alcohol-based hand sanitizer is a fire hazard. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are classified as Class I Flammable Liquid substances, meaning they have a flash point of less than 100°F. In the event that hand sanitizer combusts, harmful carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide can form.
But beyond the risk of fire, there’s also a risk to children. Hand sanitizer sometimes comes in fun colours or fragrances, which can be tantalizing to kids. However, if ingested, hand sanitizer can cause alcohol poisoning.
To mitigate these risks, it’s important to take the following precautions when storing your hand sanitizer:
- Store hand sanitizer away from all heat and ignition sources, including sparks, open flames, electrical outlets, switches or equipment, and extreme heat.
- Hand sanitizers should be kept away from any type of reducing agent or oxidizing agent (such as acetyl chloride).
- Hand sanitizers should be stored in secure places that are out of reach of children.
- If you’re using hand sanitizer dispensers, these should not be located in corridors or exits in case of fire.
The Dangers of Homemade Hand Sanitizer
Though alcohol-based hand sanitizers carry some storage-related risks, they are safe when used as directed. What is not quite as safe, are homemade hand sanitizers.
With alcohol-based hand sanitizer increasingly hard to find, many people have attempted to make their own hand sanitizer at home. The problem is, most of these recipes do not contain enough alcohol to kill the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Not to mention, some homemade formulas may pose other risks, such as skin irritation, increased sensitivity, or allergies.
Health Canada has even gone so far as to issue a public warning about the use of homemade hand sanitizers. Health Canada warns that no matter what the recipe is, consumers should not be attempting to make and use homemade hand sanitizer. The organization warns that even formulas recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) are not recommended, as these formulas are meant to be followed in a controlled environment where manufacturers can ensure that the final concentration of ingredients is accurate—something you definitely can’t do at home.
How to Buy Hand Sanitizer in Bulk
With homemade hand sanitizer out of the question, the challenge becomes finding a brand-name hand sanitizer to purchase. This is much trickier than it has been in the past as panic over the spread of the coronavirus has caused a major shortage of hand sanitizer at traditional retailers like Walmart.
But while the shelves at your local Walmart might be empty, there are other places to buy hand sanitizer in bulk—it’s just about knowing what to look for and where to shop.
What to Buy
With trusted brands like Purell out of stock in many places, counterfeit hand sanitizer brands have flooded the market. Though Health Canada and the FDA have been cracking down on these products, it’s important to key an eye out for counterfeit or ineffective products before you make a purchase.
Before you buy hand sanitizer in bulk, look for the following:
- The active ingredient should be alcohol (alcohol-free hand sanitizers may be less effective).
- The hand sanitizer should contain at least 60% ethanol or 70% isopropanol.
- The product should an expiry date of about three years after the manufacture date.
Keeping these guidelines in mind can ensure that the product you’re buying is not only legitimate, but also effective.
Where to Buy
Now that you know what to buy, you need to know where to look. Though it may not be the first place that comes to find, wholesalers can be your best bet. When you buy a product wholesale, you’re making a purchase from the middleman between you and the manufacturer. For instance, if you make a purchase at Costco, you’re shopping wholesale.
There are two big benefits to shopping wholesale. On the one hand, wholesale purchases are almost always made in bulk. This means that instead of buying one or two bottles of hand sanitizer at a time, you can stock up for the long-haul. Making bulk purchases is especially important if you’re purchasing hand sanitizer for your business and employees.
But perhaps the biggest benefit of shopping wholesale is the money you save. While traditional retailers charge a premium for their products, wholesalers are able to offer lower prices because customers are purchasing in larger quantities.
Wondering where to find reputable wholesalers? Health Canada has published a list of authorized hand sanitizer brands, which is updated daily, Monday to Friday.
Whether you’re preparing for the flu season or you're continuing to weather the COVID-19 pandemic, hand sanitizer is essential in slowing the spread of harmful germs. And if you do your research ahead of time, you can make sure that you buy hand sanitizer in bulk from only the most reputable and trustworthy brands.