10 Common Hand Sanitizer Mistakes

We are many months into using hand sanitizers in our daily life to mitigate the spread of infection. This is something that is new for many and has been commonplace with others for years. Whether new to using hand sanitizer daily or a long time pro there are some common mistakes to avoid going forward.

1.Wrong kind of sanitizer

Not all hand sanitizers are created equally.  This year’s increased demand for hand sanitizer has pushed Health Canada to allow the use of technical grade ethanol in manufacturing of hand sanitizers. Technical grade ethanol is an impure substitute for pharmaceutical grade ethanol USP. These lower grade sanitizers using technical grade ethanol contain ten times more of the carcinogenic acetaldehyde that makes these sanitizers more dangerous. In fact, a sanitizer made with this grade of ethanol must carry a warning for those who should not use it. This include children, pregnant or breast feeding women, or those with broken or damaged skin.  Due to the current shortage of high quality ethanol Health Canada has temporarily deemed the risks of Covid-19 to outweigh the dangers of exposure to impurities, but only if the manufacturer has been certified to do so and the labels carry the appropriate warning.

Unfortunately, many technical grade ethanol hand sanitizer manufacturers have been rushing to market without receiving Health Canada approval first, leaving many to be recalled over concerns for safety.  

The best way to be certain of the quality of your hand sanitizer is to look for brands that are marked with an NPN (Natural Product Number). These numbers are given out by Health Canada upon verification of effectiveness and safety so you can be certain of the quality.

2.Not sanitizing long enough

Most people now know the importance of time when sanitizing.  Hand sanitizer, soap, or surface cleaners, all need sufficient time in contact with germs to kill or inactivate them.

Just like washing with hand soap, hand sanitizing should be about a 30s process. Singing happy birthday twice is a good way to remember as you rub your hands until dry.


3.Not enough sanitizer

Some people believe that a small spot of hand sanitizer is enough, but in reality you will need enough to cover your whole hand.  Using too little sanitizer is unlikely to cover every part of your hand leaving spots where germs are still alive and growing. Not using enough makes it hard to achieve the 30s of contact time needed to sanitize your hands.


4.Not letting sanitizer dry

When hurrying to sanitize hands some people reach for a towel or pant leg to get their hands dry and ready for the next task.  Unfortunately, this will reduce the effectiveness as there may not be sufficient contact time to reliably kill germs. If your hands are still wet with hand sanitizer its best to keep rubbing them until they dry and make sure it covers your whole hand.


5.Sanitizing with dirty hands

Grease, dirt, and oil on your hands can act as a barrier that will reduce the effectiveness of your hand sanitizer. Grease protecting the skin below or dirt just being pushed around on your hands must be removed prior to using hand sanitizer.  Use soap and water to clean your hands, then use hand sanitizer to make sure sufficient contact can be made between skin and sanitizer.


6.Improper storage of sanitizer

Most people have bottles of hand sanitizer ready for them most places they go, as use of hand sanitizer has become a part of our daily life. In the car, in a purse, in a pocket, or on your desk hand sanitizer is stored where you need it.  This is mostly ok if the container is properly sealed and kept out of direct sunlight. 

Hand sanitizer stored in a vehicle should be kept in the door or console to avoid direct sunlight.  Contrary to what most would assume, concerns of hand sanitizer in hot vehicles are rooted in the fear that a clear bottle may act like a magnifying glass focusing sunlight and potentially creating a fire.  The more realistic problem with a hot car is the lose of alcohol out of the sanitizer through evaporation. As long as the bottle of hand sanitizer is closed tightly and out of direct sun this should not be a problem.

The risk of too much sun and fire seem rather comedic as winter sets in across Canada and the days get shorter.  At this time of year Canadians may be curious as to the effects of freezing cold on their hand sanitizer.  Being made mostly out of alcohol means hand sanitizer won’t freeze solid but some brands may separate and form a frozen layer as the water used to dilute the alcohol freezes. This doesn’t mean that the bottle is garbage, but it will need to be warmed to allow its ingredients to thaw and recombine.

7.Not sanitize before eating

Sanitizing before eating is a great way to limit germs from your hands from entering your mouth.  Some might sanitize as soon as they pick up their food or as soon as they get home to enjoy it, but what about right before your meal?

It is important to keep in mind what you have touched between cleaning hands and eating. For example, using hand sanitizer immediately after picking up food will not protect you from germs in your car, on your keys, on the door of your house, or on the handle to your cutlery drawer. Sanitizing hands does not last and should be done immediately before every instance where your hands are likely to be in contact with your face.

8.Making your own sanitizer

As some come across shortages of hand sanitizer with increased demand, some make their own.  This is not a safe way to sanitize hands. Home recipes could be dangerous to produce, lack effective concentrations or ingredients, or may not be safe for your family. If you want to be sure your hands have been sanitized the best option is to buy hand sanitizers that have an NPN proving it has been tested for safety and effectiveness.


9.Not sanitizing items you frequently touch

Sanitizing your hands regularly is a great habit to be in, but do not forget about the items you handle most. Sanitizing your hands then grabbing for your phone will reintroduce germs to your hands immediately. Regular sanitizing of the surfaces and items you find in your hands most often will help eliminate the risk of cross contamination. I like to think of it as paint, if you wash paint off your hands then go touch wet paint your hands didn’t stay clean for long. With viruses and bacteria this paint is invisible and covers everything, so the best answer is regular cleaning of the things in your space.


10.Has your sanitizer expired?

Like a forgotten cup yogurt in the fridge hand sanitizers may not be as good after expiry but luckily the smell is not as bad.  Hand sanitizers are alcohol based and as such quite volatile.  Heat, sun, and open air will all degrade the concentration of alcohol as time passes meaning after expiry or poor storage your hand sanitizer may not be as effective as you think.  The battle for clean hands is waged without seeing the enemy so ineffective sanitizers may leave you unknowingly carrying germs everywhere you go.


Hand sanitizer mistakes

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published