Water-based vs. Alcohol-based Hand Sanitizers: Which Should You Choose?

Read Time: 6 minutes

As we have learned throughout the year 2020 and beyond, stocking up on hand sanitizer is never a bad idea. Hand sanitizers are available in a variety of formulas with different ingredients at their base. But did you know that water-based hand sanitizers and alcohol-based hand sanitizers have some important differences? Here are some facts to consider to help you determine which choice is best for you.

How Hand Sanitizer Works

Before we look at their differences, let’s take a closer look at how hand sanitizers work in general.

Hand sanitizers kill germs by breaking down their microbial cell wall. All hand sanitizers, no matter what they are made of, contain chemicals that effectively eliminate these organisms. These products are waterless, which means they do not require a water supply or good water quality in order to work properly. Hand sanitizers are great options to keep with you for frequent cleaning purposes, or for use in areas where water is not readily available.

Water-based hand sanitizer is made of water-soluble ingredients and the approved alcohol-free sanitizing ingredient benzalkonium chloride. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers, however, use ethanol to kill germs and bacteria.

What Is Benzalkonium Chloride?

Benzalkonium chloride is the main sanitizing ingredient in water-based hand sanitizers. Benzalkonium chloride (BZK) helps kill germs by disrupting the cell membrane of bacteria or viruses. Benzalkonium chloride can effectively kill 99.99% of germs in as little as 15 seconds, which is highly comparable to ethanol’s 99.999% in 15 seconds.

Like with any topically applied ingredient, there is a possibility that an individual can be allergic to the ingredient itself. If a reaction occurs, it is best to discontinue the use of the product containing benzalkonium chloride and instead use an alcohol-based sanitizer or regular soap and water to clean your hands.

What Is Ethanol?

Ethanol is alcohol used as the main ingredient in alcohol-based hand sanitizers. Ethanol kills germs and evaporates quickly, but can disrupt the skin’s natural water balance, which can lead to excessive dryness. This is especially true for those with sensitive skin who are more prone to redness and irritation from topical ingredients like ethanol. Frequent use of hand sanitizers increases this effect exponentially, which is why some users may look for a water-based alternative. When ethanol is used in sanitizers, however, it helps them dry down quicker making them a more efficient choice in certain situations.

Water-Based Hand Sanitizers

Water-based hand sanitizers work through the use of an antimicrobial agent that kills bacteria called benzalkonium chloride. In water-based products, the water solubility of most chemicals allows for quick evaporation after application so a dry residue does not remain on your skin like in an alcohol-based product. These alcohol-free sanitizers are not flammable or as drying to your skin as their alternatives can be.

Water-based sanitizers are newer to the market and are usually selected for specific health or safety concerns. These products may be a better choice for people with sensitive skin, pregnant women, children under age the age of 12, and anyone who is allergic to certain chemicals or is avoiding alcohol for other reasons. However, keep in mind that water-based hand sanitizers may not last as long so you should reapply more frequently than with an alcohol-based alternative. Water-based formulas also take longer to dry than alcohol-based, so users may wait a little while until hands are no longer wet before picking up food or eating.

Some common places that might benefit from the use of alcohol-free sanitizers include hospitals, nursing homes, or other medical facilities; schools or daycare facilities for children, or facilities where alcohol abuse is a concern.

Alcohol-Based Hand Sanitizers

Alcohol-based products have been the most commonly used hand sanitizers for many years. These hand sanitizers have been around longer and can be more economical based on availability and ingredients.

Some of alcohol-based hand sanitizers’ disadvantages include that they may dry out skin due to their high concentration of ethanol. For this reason, many alcohol-based sanitizers include moisturizing agents like shea butter or aloe to counteract the drying effect. These ingredients may leave an uncomfortable residue on hands in certain cases, as well as possibly pose additional risks for allergies in some people.

Alcohol-based sanitizers are usually selected when the quick drying time of the product is important, as it takes less time to evaporate on the skin. These products can also be easier to find and are purchase strictly due to availability.

Effectiveness of Hand Sanitizers

Hand sanitizer effectiveness, whether from an alcohol-based or water-based formula, has come under fire in recent months due to the global pandemic. However, both water-based formulas containing benzalkonium chloride and alcohol-based formulas containing ethanol have both been shown in various studies to be effective against germs and viruses.

Traditional Hand Washing Vs Hand Sanitizers

When it comes to eliminating germs and viruses, hand sanitizer is not much different than traditional soap and water. However, if you have access to a sink or water source where you can wash your hands, it is still highly recommended that you do so. Hand sanitizers are great alternatives when there is not a water source nearby, or when you need to sanitize on the go.

When washing your hands with soap and water, remember to scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds and then dry them thoroughly after. This will remove any germs or bacteria that may be on the surface of your skin.

The Goldshield Difference

Goldshield GS-24 foaming hand sanitizer is a water-based hand sanitizer that combines benzalkonium chloride with Goldshield’s unique antimicrobial technology to kill 99.99% of germs. Not only does GS-24 foam eliminate germs on contact, but it also provides up to 24 hours of antimicrobial protection. All Goldshield products are formulated using safe and effective ingredients that deliver exceptional results.

Hand sanitizers are a great way to maintain good hygiene by killing bacteria and viruses, however, not all formulas have the same benefits or ingredients. Though water-based formulas are relatively new to the hand sanitizer world, they present some important and highly promising alternatives to both alcohol-based sanitizers and traditional hand washing methods. Each formula of sanitizer has unique applications and uses that fit specific needs and protect from germs and bacteria.

Interested in learning more about the right sanitizer formula for your home or business? Send us a note or get in touch with us today to discuss your options.

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Goldshield products offer powerful yet gentle protection that is safe for families, pets, clothes, and surfaces.

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