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Cleaner or Sanitizer or Disinfectant – What are Hand Sanitizers in Reality

Increased exposure to germs and other disease-causing agents has compelled us to brace ourselves for the maintenance of a hygienic environment. While the COVID-19 pandemic is around the corner, you need to keep your space clean more than ever. To remain assured of your health precautions, knowing the differences between cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting will only help you to prepare better.

Although the three terms have a close association and often are used interchangeably, there is a quite noticeable difference among them.

You already know the effectiveness of hand sanitizers to prevent Coronavirus infection. But, have you wondered what is your alcohol-based hand sanitizers – cleaner, sanitizer, or disinfectant? 

Cleaning, Sanitizing, and Disinfecting – The Difference

Initially, they might seem similar to you, but once you know the difference in their characteristics, the distinction of cleaner, sanitizer, and disinfectant will become as easy as you might get.

While cleaning, you just remove dust and debris from the surface, not affecting the germs. So, a “clean” space is not a disinfected and safe place, while a properly disinfected place will always be clean and safe.

When you clean your hands or any surface, it doesn’t necessarily indicate adequate sanitation. Such inadequate sanitation leads to many global diseases like the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The major difference between a sanitizer and a disinfectant is the germ-killing ability. While sanitizers reduce the number of germs on a surface, a disinfectant kills them all. Disinfectants include chemicals like hydrogen peroxide that produce destructive free radicals and sterilize an object or surface by attacking the viral or bacterial cell components. On the other hand, chlorine and QAC (Quaternary Ammonium Compounds) based sanitizers reduce the number of germs present on a surface. The dose of exposure (a certain number of germs to cause illness) reduces, and you become less prone to diseases. Thereby, (hand) sanitizers reduce the risk for infection by lowering the number of germs present on a surface.

Moreover, sanitizers and disinfectants differ greatly in their dwell time – time for destroying germs completely. Sanitizers are faster – a disinfectant may take up to 10 minutes to kill germs where sanitizers work instantly. 

What Is a Hand Sanitizer?

Hand sanitizer, alternatively called hand rub or hand antiseptic is applied on our hands to reduce the disease-causing organisms. It’s mainly of two types (alcohol-based and alcohol-free), and come in several forms like gel, liquid, and foam. Both WHO and the CDC recommend the use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers while there is no option to wash your hands with soap & water. While the COVID-19 pandemic is around here and there, knowing more about your hand sanitizer is always a bright idea. 

An alcohol-based hand sanitizer or IPA hand sanitizer mainly consists of ethanol, n-propanol, or isopropyl alcohol. All these alcohols are powerful disinfectants killing almost any pathogens including Coronavirus. 

Also, the alcohol-free version consists of disinfectants such as triclosan or benzalkonium chloride (BAC). Although these agents are not as powerful as alcohols and are ineffective against the SARS-CoV-2. (This is the reason behind the recommendation of using alcohol-based hand sanitizers against its non-alcoholic counterpart.)

But, do you know what your hand sanitizer is actually? Is it cleaner, disinfectant, or as the name implies, a sanitizer? 

The name “hand sanitizer” is a misnomer as it’s a disinfectant, technically. The main ingredient of hand sanitizers is alcohol which is a surface disinfectant. 

However, the main aspect is to protect yourself and your family from diseases. A dirty surface may not need disinfecting, and cleaning will help for surfaces like windows. But, a doorknob that has the chance to come in contact will bodily fluid may transmit the virus, bacteria, and other disease-causing agents. Sanitizing, if possible disinfecting such surfaces after cleaning will ensure your comprehensive health precautions against any disease.While an alcohol-based hand sanitizer is effective against the SARS-CoV-2, cleaning your hands, and then applying hand sanitizer is referred to as the best practice for Coronavirus protection. Use it each time you go out and return, take food, and use the washroom. And remember, a clean surface might not be disinfected (germ-free) all time, but a disinfected place will always be clean and germ-free.

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