9 things alcohol-based hand sanitizers don’t kill

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FEATURE — I have an alcohol-based hand sanitizer in every room in my office. I use it between cases in the operating room. It has got to be pretty effective, right? In some cases, yes, but let’s also talk about washing our hands.

First, be aware soap doesn’t kill germs and, anti-bacterial soap is not better than common soap. There is a lipid layer on our skin (greasy, oily layer) where bacteria and viruses live. Soaps remove that layer. And most do it very effectively.

So how about hand sanitizers when soap and sinks are not available? Alcohol is definitely better than nothing, but here is a surprising list of things hand sanitizers won’t kill.


Norovisus is very contagious. It’s seen a lot on cruise ship outbreaks, especially on food and drink. It’s a tough bug.


While HPV is primarily considered a sexually transmitted infection, individuals can still contract the disease non-sexually, including through childbirth, kissing, diaper changes and other forms of close contact. And unfortunately, this is one virus hand sanitizer simply can’t touch.

Escherichia coli (E. coli)

If you’re at all familiar with the bacterium E. coli, which the CDC linked to five deaths in the United States during a 2018 outbreak, then you already know that you want to avoid it at all costs. However, using hand sanitizer isn’t enough to rid your hands of this germ, especially if you work in an environment where you’re in regular contact with raw food.

Staphylococcus epidermidis

Don’t rely on hand sanitizer to protect you from staphylococcus (S. epidermidis). If you were to go to the store right now and buy a random bottle of hand sanitizer without looking at the brand name, you’d have a 40 percent chance of buying one that doesn’t protect against this bacterium.


Giardia is a microscopic parasite, and alcohol-based sanitizers are an ineffective preventative measure against the cysts responsible for giardia’s transmission.

Clostridium difficile

Clostridium difficile colitis results from the disruption of normal bacteria in the colon, often from taking antibiotics, and it is contagious by touching contaminated surfaces. However,  researchers found that using an alcohol-based hand rub was as ineffective as doing nothing at all. Conversely, warm water with plain soap proved to be the most effective method for removing the bacteria.


Researchers from The Dental College of Georgia compared the efficacy of their green tea hand sanitizer against that of alcohol-based hand sanitizers in 2016. They found that their green tea product was 100 times more effective in immobilizing poliovirus-1 than what is currently mandated.


MRSA, or methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, is a type of bacteria that can cause potentially fatal infections. And, as its name suggests, these infections do not respond to the antibiotic methicillin. However, that’s not the only reason you should fear MRSA. Though some hand sanitizers claim to protect against the bacterium, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned back in 2011 that “these statements are unproven.”

Pseudomonas aeruginosa

When it comes to this type of bacteria, hand sanitizer is a total toss-up, so it’s better just to wash your hands if and when you come in contact with it.

What about the flu?

Flu viruses are enveloped viruses which are very effectively killed by alcohol, so while the FDA won’t let the manufacturers say it specifically, it is likely very effective during flu season.

Hope that helps.


Dr. Sean Lynn practices at St. George Women’s Health Center in St. George | Telephone: 435-218-7770.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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