The Truth About Hand Sanitizer Gels And Antibacterial Wipes

By Sloan Barnett

You know how you always wipe down a thermometer with rubbing alcohol? That’s to kill germs. Rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol or isopropanol) and ethyl alcohol (which is the alcohol in liquor, wine, or beer) both do this well.

It was this property of alcohol that household soap manufacturers had in mind when they brought alcohol-based gel “sanitizers” onto the market a few years ago after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended them as “a suitable alternative to hand washing for health-care personnel in health-care settings.” Note the “health-care setting” emphasis; that’s important, because the kinds of bacteria found in hospitals are typically different from those found in your home. Hospitals are concerned about passing along infectious diseases to patients who are already sick. At home, the bacteria you’re worried about are those associated with food preparation or the bathroom. What you need at home is different from what they need in hospitals. And then there’s one more issue you need to think about: Some of these gels smell really good, even appetizing, to small children, and they’re seriously dangerous if ingested. So unless you have someone who is very sick or old or suffers from immune limitations, alcohol-based antiseptic gels can be a problem waiting to happen.


Since the active ingredient in these gels is the alcohol, you could achieve the same effect just by splashing rubbing alcohol on your hands. But alcohol can be a serious skin irritant, so the gel makers throw in a little moisturizer to counteract the irritation. The rest of the contents are just water and fragrance.

So, do you need sanitizing gels at home? Probably not. In home and food preparation situations, research has shown that scrubbing with soap and hot water is a perfectly effective and safe alternative, and may even be better. In fact, some of the ethyl alcohol-based gels have been proven to be completely ineffective unless the level of that chemical is at least 62 percent and some don’t reach that level.

Lately, though, I’ve become more cautious. A while back, my daughter came down with salmonella poisoning. We never figured out where it came from, but since then I’ve been more concerned than ever about cleaning the surfaces where we prepare food. Shaklee doesn’t carry an antibacterial gel, but most surfaces can be effectively cleaned with Get Clean Basic H2. And if you feel the need for extra protection, I suggest Shaklee’s Get Clean Germ Off Disinfecting Wipes. They’re bleach and alcohol free, yet they kill 99.9 percent of household germs like Salmonella and E. coli. You can use them to disinfect most places where bacteria and other harmful microbes hang out: countertops, sinks, trash cans, diaper changing tables, doorknobs, faucet handles, handrails, and exterior toilet-bowl surfaces. Next time you’ve been playing patty-cake with a raw chicken, try them. Sure beats salmonella poisoning, I promise you.

Did you know? When we overuse antibacterial and antimicrobial soap, the germs get smart and become resistant to the chemicals we use against them.

About the Author: Sloan Barnett is a regular contributor to NBC’s Today Show and the Green Editor for KNTV, the NBC affiliate in San Francisco. She has been a television and print journalist for more than 10 years, and wrote a popular consumer advice column for New York’s Daily News for nearly a decade. She lives in San Francisco with her husband and three children. FMI, please visit:

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