Alcohol vs Alcohol Free Hand Sanitizer for Hand Hygiene – Guidelines

Comparision Alcohol-Based Vs. Alcohol-Free Hand Sanitizers

Updated on April 10, 2023

Do alcohol free hand sanitizers work? 

Are alcohol based hand sanitizers safe?

Is Purell hand sanitizer alcohol free?

These are questions you may have asked yourself when reviewing your office or building hygiene policy. 

We all know that good hand hygiene really does save lives. One of the key health messages we have heard throughout the covid-19 pandemic is around the importance of washing our hands properly to remove any potential germs from our skin. 

Alcohol hand sanitizers are often recommended and since the pandemic have been distributed everywhere from schools to dental offices and retail stores. 

Alcohol based and alcohol free hand sanitizers both help you keep healthy by removing germs from your hands (although the results might not be the same – we’ll get to this in a bit). This stops you from contaminating other surfaces and objects you may come into contact with, that may also be touched by others. 

However, it’s not just covid-19 that you need to think about. Good hand hygiene is vital in minimizing the spread of a whole range of infections from respiratory to stomach illnesses. This is why even after the pandemic, using hand sanitizers and good hand washing should become a lifelong habit.

In addition to good hand hygiene, incorporating healthy habits such as using non-toxic, plant-based and eco-friendly hand sanitizers can further promote wellness. By opting for chemical-free alternatives, we can reduce our exposure to harmful substances and contribute towards a healthier environment.

Hand washing with soap and water is often recommended as the best method for hand hygiene. When washing your hands it’s also critical to dry your hands properly with a hand dryer. However, soap, water and commercial hand dryers are not always readily available to use. This is why you may prefer alcohol or non alcohol hand sanitizers in some situations. 

But with so many types of hand sanitizers on the market, how do you know if you’re buying one that is reliable and actually works in protecting you and the wider community against illness?

In this blog, we take a look at the differences between alcohol hand sanitizers and alcohol free hand sanitizers to explore which solution is actually the most effective for optimal hand hygiene. 

Alcohol-Based vs Alcohol-Free Hand Sanitizers

The Differences Between Alcohol-based Hand Sanitizer and Alcohol-free Hand Sanitizer

As obvious as it may sound, the main difference between alcohol based and alcohol free hand sanitizers is the alcohol content. 

Simply put, hand sanitizers that contain alcohol will be formulated with alcohol contents referred to as ethanol, ethyl alcohol, isopropanol or 2-propanol. On the other hand, alcohol free hand sanitizers usually display Benzalkonium Chloride combined with water and other ingredients that help to moisturize and soften the skin. 

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But what impact does the alcohol content have on the effectiveness of hand sanitizers? 

Alcohol is often found in hand sanitizers due to its antiseptic qualities which can effectively kill bacteria and germs found on hands. 

For example, if you have a bottle of Purell and look at the label you will see that it contains 70% Ethyl Alcohol. Purell is known to be one of the most effective hand sanitizers trusted by businesses around the world. 

If you are using Purell and want to learn more check out The Ultimate Guide to Using Purell Hand Sanitizer.

Non-alcohol hand sanitizers are usually non-toxic and come in a foam formulation. Whereas, you can often find gel, foam and liquid formulations of alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

Instructions on labels should be carefully read as swallowing the product could cause alcohol poisoning while it could cause burns if it gets in the eyes. For this reason, alcohol-based hand sanitizer should be kept out of reach of children.

Most government agencies have a readily available list of authorised hand sanitizers. If you’re in the US use this resource from the FDA to see if the hand sanitizer you’re using is authorized.

Pros and Cons of Alcohol vs. Alcohol Free Hand Sanitizer

Below are a few pros, cons and differences between alcohol and alcohol free hand sanitizer.

Pros and Cons of Alcohol vs. Alcohol Free Hand Sanitizer

Are alcohol based hand sanitizers safer than alcohol free alternatives?

It’s been advised by both the CDC and the World Health Organization that if hand sanitizer is used, it’s best to go for one with at least 60% alcohol as the alcohol content has been proven to kill over 99.9% of germs. 

Since the covid-19 pandemic though, a range of outlets have turned to manufacturing alcohol based hand sanitizer to supply to the general public and it’s therefore also wise to check that any hand sanitizer you buy has been approved by the FDA. The FDA also recommends that alcohol should not be less than 94.9% by volume or USP-grade isopropyl alcohol.

Be careful that you are buying effective and safe hand sanitizer as non-approved products could potentially cause allergens, rashes and other reactions such as itching. 

In addition to checking the formulation, make sure you also look at the bottle or dispenser that it comes in as if it’s been tampered with, as there could be a risk of cross contamination.

Important considerations when choosing commercial hand sanitizer for your workplace

Hand sanitizer with over 60% alcohol content has been deemed most effective. 

It’s usually best to opt for this solution, particularly in commercial settings such as offices, manufacturing facilities, healthcare clinics and restaurants. 

However, when choosing the best commercial hand sanitizer for your workplace it’s important to remember compliance. The ultimate goal is to ensure people are performing proper hand hygiene and therefore in some cases, a non-alcohol hand sanitizer may be more appropriate. 

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Both the types of hand sanitizer users and the sector you work in need to be considered. For example, alcohol based hand sanitizers that kill germs on hands may be better in businesses such as healthcare and manufacturing facilities where minimizing the risk of infection transmission is especially important. 

However, in other facilities such as elementary classrooms and school bathrooms where hand sanitizer may be used by young children; a non-alcohol hand sanitizer may be more suitable. 

Where there is also a risk of users swallowing hand sanitizer, opting for an alcohol-free hand sanitizer may be a better choice. It’s important to think about your business and the end user to decide on the most appropriate solution that encourages hand hygiene.

Below we’ve put together a quick checklist of five things to consider when buying hand sanitizer for your workplace. 

5 things to consider when choosing hand sanitizer

While there are guidelines in place from organizations such as the CDC, there are no hard and fast rules for when alcohol free hand sanitizers or alcohol hand sanitizers should be used. But here are five considerations for you to think about.

  1. Who will be using the hand sanitizer?
    For certain professions such as doctors or nurses, an alcohol based hand sanitizer is the best solution. However, if vulnerable adults or young children are the end user, and may end up ingesting the solution, an alcohol free hand sanitizer may be safer.
  2. What type of workplace do you have?
    Some workplaces such as medical centers and care facilities have a higher need for alcohol based hand sanitizers. In contrast, if you have a family restaurant where there are many young children running around, you will not want to run the risk of them ingesting alcohol, and may want to opt for an alcohol free hand sanitizer instead.
  3. How much alcohol is in the sanitizer you are choosing? 
    If you choose an alcohol based hand sanitizer you want to make sure that the alcohol contents are not too large or too small. You want to hit that goldilocks zone of no lower than 60% and no higher than 94.9%.
  4. What alcohol type is used?
    According to the WHO, ethanol is proven to be more effective than isopropyl alcohol on its own against viruses.
  5. What additional ingredients are included?
    Some sanitizers may include additional ingredients such as fragrances that may be irritants or even allergens to some. When you are placing hand sanitizer in the workplace, you want to make sure that it is comfortable for use, for the largest possible number of people in your office. 

12 Tips for Using Hand Sanitizer

Tips for Using Hand Sanitizer

When you add alcohol, or alcohol free hand sanitizer to your workplace, you want to make sure it’s being used effectively. 

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Check out these 12 Tips for Using Hand Sanitizer that you can distribute in your workplace and ensure everyone stays healthy.

Also be sure to set up helpful signage on the proper use of hand sanitizer for effective infection prevention. 

Print and use this free poster in your workplace today: download now.

Choosing the Right Hand Sanitizer Dispenser for Your Workplace

Beyond choosing what type of hand sanitizer you want in your workplaces, you also need to consider how you will distribute it. 

Most alcohol-free hand sanitizers will often be found in a foam formulation whereas alcohol-based hand sanitizers will be found in a gel or liquid form. 

It’s important to know the type of formula you’re buying as this will impact the choice of dispenser you can store it in. Foaming hand sanitizer needs to be stored in a dispenser that contains a foaming mechanism to work effectively and avoid potential clogging issues. Alcohol based hand sanitizers may require dispensers that are non-corrosive, so the alcohol does not erode the insides over time.

It’s important to consider the type of dispenser that will be used as the presence of a closed cartridge dispenser in itself can encourage use and can stop cross-contamination from occurring. 

A dispenser that delivers just the right amount of product can also reduce the risk of spills and minimize wastage, as well as overall costs.


For your business, budget is also likely an important consideration. Alcohol-free hand sanitizer can often be cheaper to buy. However alcohol hand sanitizer is more effective, and as such can actually end up being more cost-effective in preventing sickness and the decreased productivity that comes with it. 

If your employees do not eliminate the germs off their hands properly then this could lead to increased absenteeism, increased sick days and reduced productivity from illness which can all have an impact on your bottom line.

Commercial Hand Sanitizer Solutions from Citron Hygiene

Citron Hygiene supplies a wide range of alcohol-based commercial hand sanitizer solutions to workplaces with various requirements. 

Our solutions include Purell hand sanitizer and Citron hand sanitizer; both of which are effective at killing germs on hands when used properly.

Our commercial hand sanitizer stations are available in various wall-mounted and floor standing options so you can choose the right solution for your workplace. All dispensers are re-filled through our vendor managed service program.

To request information about our workplace hand sanitizer solutions, get in touch with our team.

Find out how we can elevate your washroom experience today.

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