Alcohol-free hand sanitizer prices are skyrocketing, but they don't actually work to prevent the coronavirus

hand sanitizer

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As people continue to buy these less effective products, they could be putting themselves at risk without realizing it.

  • Hand sanitizers from brands like Purell and Germ-X are flying off shelves amidst the coronavirus outbreak, but some of the products don't have the correct germ-killing ingredients.
  • An effective hand sanitizer has at least 60% alcohol content, but some products contain the alcohol substitute benzalkonium chloride, which isn't as good at killing germs.
  • As people continue to buy these less effective products, they could be putting themselves at risk without realizing it.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Hand sanitizers from brands like Purell and Germ-X are flying off shelves amidst the coronavirus outbreak, but some people, possibly without realizing, are buying versions that cannot protect them from the germs they're trying to kill.

According to ProPublica's Marshall Allen and Lisa Song, Purell and Germ-X are selling alcohol-free hand sanitizers alongside their alcohol-containing products. Alcohol-free sanitation products aren't recommended by the CDC because they can't kill as many germs as alcohol-containing ones, Business Insider previously reported.

Alcohol-free sanitation products from brands like Purell and Germ-X use benzalkonium chloride as an alcohol replacement, Allen and Song reported on March 6. But the CDC warned consumers of this alcohol substitute because it's not as effective as alcohol itself at killing germs and may merely reduce the growth of new germs.

But these items are still selling out on online retailer like Amazon, or their prices are being hiked up, signalling consumer interest in the alcohol-free options. In mid-January, for example, Germ-X Alcohol-Free Foaming Hand Sanitizer cost $10.99, but it now costs $49.95 for the same product, ProPublica reported.

As people continue to buy these less effective products, they could be putting themselves at risk without realizing it.

Effective hand sanitizers have at least 60% alcohol content

Not all hand sanitizers are created equally, and the CDC and other health experts have recommendations for finding a gel that can kill the majority of unwanted bacteria on a person's skin.

Although washing your hands with warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds is the best way to protect yourself, sometimes hand sanitizer is needed in a pinch. According to the CDC website, an effective hand sanitizer has between 60% and 95% alcohol content.

On hand sanitizer labels, alcohol may be listed as "ethanol," "isopropyl alcohol," or "ethyl alcohol."

As long as a product has the appropriate alcohol percentage, it's fine, regardless of other ingredients.

"If you drop below 60% [alcohol content], the effectiveness drops very dramatically," Miryam Wahrman, a biology professor at William Paterson University and the author of "The Hand Book: Surviving in a Germ-Filled World," previously told Business Insider.

But be wary of any hand sanitizers or sanitation products that say they contain an alternative disinfecting ingredient that's just as effective as alcohol, like coconut oil, because that's not the case, Business Insider previously reported.

There are effective hand sanitizers available from lesser-known brands

Although go-to brands are experiencing shortages, there are still products available that have the required 60% alcohol content.

Lesser-known brands like Pharma-C, Equate, and Highmark are selling CDC-approved sanitation products, and people can also make their own sanitizer with rubbing alcohol and aloe vera gel, Business Insider previously reported.

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