Medical news

New study finds that alcohol-free hand sanitizer stops COVID-19 germs just as well

alcohol free hand sanitizer - nurse washing hands

Have you worried that the alcohol-free hand sanitizer in your cupboard might not do the job when it comes to combating COVID-19?

Fear no more, as new research shows it disinfects your hands and house just as well as alcohol-based versions do.

The study appeared on November 28 in the Journal of Hospital Infection.

Because SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) is so new, researchers don’t know much about how it can be disinfected. The official recommendation of the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) is to use alcohol-based sanitizer to protect from COVID-19.

But a team of researchers at Brigham Young University suspected that the scientific community had dismissed alcohol-free sanitizers too quickly.

Alcohol-free hand sanitizer: the Quats

To test their hypothesis, they tried out several alternatives. One contained benzalkonium chloride, a common ingredient in existing alcohol-free hand sanitizers. The others they tested were also based on so-called “quaternary ammonium” compounds (Quats), which are commonly found in disinfectants.

They discovered that most of the alcohol-free sanitizers they tested killed 99.9% of the virus or more, and did so in fifteen seconds or less.

“We conclude that Quats rapidly inactivate SARS-CoV-2, making them potentially useful for controlling SARS-CoV-2 spread in hospitals and the community,” the researchers write.

Advantages of a no-alcohol sanitizer

In fact, alcohol-free hand sanitizer even has several advantages. Sanitizers based on Quats do not irritate human skin like alcohol does. This is very important for people who need to wash their hands many times per day. Examples include doctors, nurses, and other frontline workers.

The absence of the stinging sensation that alcohol causes might also make people in the general population more likely to wash their hands more frequently.

Furthermore, it’s good to have more choices when it comes to disinfectants. That’s especially so considering how quickly consumers empty the shelves of hand sanitizer when there’s not enough to go around.

Benzalkonium chloride-based hand sanitizer is also non-flammable and non-toxic, which definitely cannot be said of alcohol-based sanitizers. In fact, the risk of people drinking alcohol-based sanitizers is a very real one.

Quat-based sanitizers also smell nicer. Moreover, they act quickly, which is even more important in medical situations where speed matters.

An effective alternative sanitizer

“Benzalkonium chloride hand sanitizer products could be used as effective alternatives to alcohol-based products,” the researchers conclude, “which may help reduce supply shortages and contribute to the containment of COVID-19.”

“In light of these results,” they add, “the FDA should consider giving expedited approval to manufacturers of benzalkonium chloride hand sanitizers, thereby making both types of hand sanitizers more available.”


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  • Horror fans had more psychological resilience during the pandemic. Fans of “prepper” movies were also more prepared.

Study: Alcohol-free hand sanitizer and other quaternary ammonium disinfectants quickly and effectively inactivate SARS-CoV-2
Authors: Benjamin H. Ogilvie, Antonio Solis-Leal, J. Brandon Lopez, Brian D. Poole, Richard A. Robison, and Bradford K. Berges
Published in: The Journal of Hospital Infection
Publication date: November 28, 2020
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jhin.2020.11.023
Photo: by Andrea Piacquadio via Pexels

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