Does alcohol-free hand sanitizer work? A new study may surprise you

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SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – A new study from Brigham Young University shows that alcohol-free hand sanitizer works just as effectively in killing the COVID-19 virus as alcohol-based hand sanitizers. This comes as a surprise to many because since the start of the pandemic, it seems as if alcohol-based hand sanitizers were the only way to go.

The BYU study was recently published in The Journal of Hospital Infection. The BYU scientists who conducted this study say that the Center for Disease Control’s partiality to alcohol-based hand sanitizer has stemmed from the limited research on what really works or not when it comes to disinfecting the coronavirus.

Benjamin Ogilvie, a BYU graduate student who had the initial idea for this study says, “One of the reasons is a lack of research. The virus is new so these things have not been studied as much.”

It is well known that alcohol-based hand sanitizer kills the virus but to put the alcohol-free sanitizers to the test, the group of scientists treated samples of COVID-19 with benzalkonium chloride, the main ingredient commonly used in alcohol-free hand sanitizers. The group from BYU also treated several samples of coronavirus with other ammonium compounds regularly found in disinfectants. In most cases, the compounds killed at least 99.9% of the virus within 15 seconds.

“With alcohol-free hand sanitizer in the U.S., there is only one chemical that has been approved for use and that is called benzalkonium chloride,” explains Ogilvie. “Benzalkonium chloride is super effective against COVID-19 and….within 15 seconds, the benzalkonium chloride was totally effective (in our experiment).”

Even though alcohol-based hand sanitizers have been the long-touted option for killing germs, Ogilvie and his team members say that alcohol-free sanitizers have a number of advantages over their alcohol-based counterparts.

“Benzalkonium chloride is non-toxic, non-flammable, and it doesn’t give your hands that burning feeling (like alcohol-based sanitizers do)…That is a big advantage. Another advantage is that it is effective at a very low concentration. So even 0.13% is enough to kill microbes,” says Ogilvie. “It takes like 60-70% alcohol concentration to kill microbes and that is just an enormous amount of liquid that you have to produce if everybody is using alcohol to sterilize things.”

Since the start of the pandemic, people across the nation have seen dozens of hand sanitizer brands show up in stores, but how do you know which one you can trust when buying your next bottle of hand sanitizer?

“A lot of random companies have started to make hand sanitizer and I would try to find hand sanitizer from established brands, Purell has been making hand sanitizer forever, their product is definitely going to be good along with medical suppliers,” Ogilvie says. “Almost all hand sanitizers that you are going to buy should be just fine but some of them will be made by groups who are not used to making hand sanitizers and aren’t being monitored very closely by the government.”

With his newfound knowledge of the power of alcohol-free hand sanitizer, Ogilvie has started a petition to encourage the CDC and the FDA to clear more companies to produce alcohol-free hand sanitizer.

“What I really want is for the FDA to change their guidance,” he says of his findings. “I would love for the FDA to give expedited approval to makers of alcohol-free hand sanitizer. I would love to see the CDC start recommending it, I would love people to start using it, I would love to see companies start making more of it. My end desire is that more people have options for controlling COVID on their hands.”

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