Cleaning products like disinfectants and sanitizers have become a daily part of people’s lives in the new normal.
Most world health organizations, even Health Canada, recommend disinfecting frequently touched surfaces and sanitizing hands (when hand washing is not an option) to reduce the risk of contracting the COVID-19 virus.
Many people wonder if sanitizers work the same way as disinfectants.
While the terms are often used interchangeably, you cannot use the products as substitutes for each other in most cases.
For instance, you cannot use hand sanitizers for cleaning your murky windows and you cannot use disinfectants as hand-rub sanitizers.
That being said, there are several ways in which hand sanitizers double as disinfectants. Read now.
Understanding the Science behind Hand Sanitizer
Hand sanitizers contain chlorine, quats, iodine, and acid-anionics to reduce the number of pathogens, microbes, and germs on your hands or any other surface.
They work by destroying the outer shell of the virus to expose the inner proteins.
The alcohol then works on neutralizing the proteins.
Most hand sanitizers that are alcohol-based claim to kill 99% of specific test bacteria and viruses in the prescribed amount of time.
However, the main difference between hand sanitizers and disinfectants is in the way they kill germs off the surface.
There is a lot of confusion surrounding the concept of sanitizing and disinfecting.
Keri Lestage, Ph.D., the COO of Byoplanet claims that most cleaning products that advertise to killing 99.99% germs are usually disinfectants.
Sanitizers, especially hand-sanitizers are designed keeping in mind skin use.
They are required to be skin sensitive and non-harmful whereas disinfectants can be more potent.
Can Hand Sanitizers Substitute as Disinfectants?
Disinfectants are cleaning agents that are designed to free hard nonporous surfaces from pathogens, germs, and microbes.
While they may not destroy 100% bacteria and microorganisms, they come quite close.
They are not supposed to be used on people, but only on inanimate surfaces.
Disinfectants are usually made from accelerated Hydrogen Peroxide (AHP), phenolics, quaternary ammonium compounds (quats), and chlorine (sodium hypochlorite bleach).
Hand sanitizers can be used instead of disinfectants in some cases.
However, disinfectants can never be used as hand sanitizers unless specifically mentioned on the label.
That being said, hand sanitizers are nowhere near as effective at killing microbes and infection-causing viruses as disinfectants and sterilizers.
It is important that you use hand sanitizers in the place of disinfectants only when on the move or when access to disinfectants for surface cleaning is limited.
Most hand-sanitizers cannot kill microorganisms from surfaces, but can greatly reduce their numbers.
This is why Health Canada recommends hand washing over sanitizing wherever possible.
However, even though sanitizers cannot kill all microorganisms, they can go a long way in preventing the transmission of disease-causing microbes and illnesses.
There is a certain number of pathogens that need to be spread called the dose of exposure for your contract illness from someone else.
Hand sanitizers can effectively lower the total number of microbes on any object or surface to reduce the risk of infection.
Disinfectants are More Potent than Hand Sanitizers
The main difference between hand sanitizers and disinfectants is in their potency and skin-friendly characteristics.
Sanitizing can go a long way in reducing the number of viruses, bacteria, and other germs on a surface.
In comparison, disinfectants can usually kill most of them, except certain bacteria and viruses.
Alexander Aiken, MB, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine states that disinfectants include highly potent chemicals, such as hydrogen peroxide.
These chemicals are not skin-friendly, but can effectively decontaminate an object or a surface.
Stephanie Dancer, consultant microbiologist and Professor of Microbiology at Edinburgh Napier University, Scotland explains that disinfectants work by creating destructive free radicals that attack the cellular components of germs.
This is the same way sanitizers work but in a less powerful way.
However, where sanitizers like in potency, they make up for in time. Hand sanitizers get to work almost immediately.
In fact, most sanitizers need to be rubbed for only about 20 seconds on the palm for them to kill the majority of microbes.
Disinfectants can take up to 10 minutes or longer to kill all germs from a surface.
This is why it is doubly important to always follow instructions on disinfectant labels
Disinfecting Using Hand Sanitizers
Michael G. Schmidt, Ph.D., chair of the American Society of Microbiology’s Council on Microbial Sciences and professor of microbiology at the Medical University of South Carolina states that homeowners and commercial establishments must address key surfaces that get touched frequently.
In households, this refers to areas that are shared by family members or those that routinely come in touch with bodily fluids.
You should pay attention to the little things that come across your hands when thinking of lowering the risk of coronavirus transmission.
In the daily course of lives, you may come across hundreds of seemingly inane surfaces that may potentially be holding the COVID-19 virus.
While it is important to refrain from touching surfaces as much as possible, you cannot avoid them completely.
However, what you can do is disinfect them using what most Canadians have on hand these days – hand sanitizers.
They may not work as well as original disinfectants, but they will get the job done.
Few examples of high touch surface that can be easily disinfected using hand sanitizers are:
- Kitchen counters
- Toilets (seat and handle)
- Light switches
- Bathroom counters
- Faucets and faucet knobs
- Table surfaces
- Game controllers
- Hard dining chairs (seat, back, and arms)
- TV remote controls
You should always make it a point of cleaning the surface using a wet wipe (preferably with alcohol) or any other tissue before sanitizing it.
Most hand sanitizers lose their efficacy on greasy, oily, and dirty surfaces.
Cleaning the surface to remove dirt and grime may increase the efficiency of the hand sanitizer.
In fact, the CDC recommends cleaning surfaces before attempting to disinfectant them in a bid to lower the risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission.
Sometimes, wiping down a surface with a cloth or a tissue before sanitizing it can go a long way.