Hand sanitizers have become commonplace in almost every bathroom, building and school supplies list around the nation.
However, here at Clear and Well, we don't use hand sanitizer incessantly because we believe in the benefits of letting our immune systems work it out sometimes. This gives our bodies the chance to come through the other side stronger and more able to fight viruses and bacteria when we inevitably come across them. But because many of us are required to provide hand sanitizer at school, we have to figure out what brands we can trust, which products are truly safe and which ones to avoid.
With few exceptions, hand sanitizers across the board consist of three active ingredients: alcohol, benzalkonium chloride and benzethonium chloride. Of the three, our choice is alcohol with its long proven track record of minimal hazard with maximum effectiveness. Triclosan used to be common in disinfectant products like hand sanitizers and antibacterial soaps, but it was banned from hand and body products in 2016 due its toxic nature (besides the fact that it's a pesticide! Pssst. This is still an ingredient in many toothpaste brands.).
In this article, we examine the 40 most common hand sanitizer brands focusing solely on ingredients to make our determinations. The good news is we were able to find 14 totally acceptable options. Yeah!
We also love to whip up a batch of our own DIY hand sanitizer gel, put it in a personal size bottle and throw it in our bags or send it to school with the kids. Easy peasy and non-toxic.
Common Hand Sanitizer Ingredients to Avoid
These are the most common worst offenders to be aware of when choosing hand sanitizer for your family. Keep this list handy and you'll be able to tell which products to stay away from just by reading the label.
- Synthetic fragrance is the most common offender with its 3,000 ingredient umbrella. The truth is, we'll never know what toxins are really in there, but any fragrance term on any label most likely contains endocrine disrupting phthalates.
- Parabens have been shown to mimic the activity of the hormone estrogen and are associated with the formation of breast cancer after having been found in breast tumors.
- Petroleum ingredients including petrolatum, propylene glycol and PEG ingredients can be contaminated with highly toxic and carcinogenic PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons).
- Quaternary ammonia compounds including quaternium ingredients are suspected reproductive toxicants and can release formaldehyde which is a known carcinogen.
- Triethanolamine is a strong respiratory allergen and suspected immune system toxicant.
- DMDM hydantoin and diazolidinyl urea are known immune toxicants and formaldehyde-releasers, a high-risk carcinogen.
- Phenoxyethanol is a known allergen and a suspected reproductive toxin.
- Ammonia is expected to be toxic to human organ systems as well as bioaccumulative.
- Aminomethyl propanol isn't really toxic itself, but can be contaminated with nitrosamines which are carcinogenic in nature.
- Tocopheryl acetate is low on the toxicity scale, but is often contaminated with hydroquinone, an extreme skin irritant.
Safest Hand Sanitizers
This section consists of our top recommendations. These brands have made our lives easier by providing trustworthy products with quality ingredients. Hover over each picture to see the active ingredients.
Next Best Hand Sanitizers
We're giving the following hand sanitizers second place because they contain very small amounts of one or two ingredients that have the potential to be mildly problematic. If using products with these ingredients, be sure to watch for signs of contact dermatitis which is an allergic reaction.
In these products, benzalkonium chloride and cetrimonium chloride both function as biocides and surfactants for cleansing and emulsifying. Benzalkonium chloride is the active ingredient in many hand sanitizers due to its superior ability to continue killing germs for hours after drying. Cocamidopropyl betaine, glyceryl laurate and polysorbate 20 are foaming agents, emulsifiers and thickeners used in a wide variety of skincare and cosmetic products. None of these ingredients are highly toxic, and in such small amounts they're not likely to cause problems, especially when used in moderation.
- Avant is benzalkonium chloride-based and contains cetrimonium chloride.
- Babyganics is benzalkonium chloride-based and contains cetrimonium chloride.
- Bac-D is benzalkonium chloride-based.
- Clean Well is thyme oil based and contains polysorbate 20.
- Clorox is alcohol-based and contains glyceryl laurate.
- Como Bath Co is benzalkonium chloride-based and contains cetrimonium chloride.
- Mangiacotti is benzalkonium chloride-based and contains cetrimonium chloride.
- X3 Clean is benzalkonium chloride-based and contains cocoamidopropyl betaine.
Hand Sanitizers to Avoid
These are the brands you'll want to steer totally clear of because they contain multiple top offenders including synthetic fragrance, parabens, petroleum, and quaternium ingredients.
- Art Naturals contains propylene glycol and tocopheryl acetate.
- BioProtect contains ammonia and artificial colors/dyes.
- CVS contains fragrance, propylene glycol, tocopheryl acetate, artificial colors/dyes and aminomethyl propanol.
- Germ Bloc contains cetrimonium chloride, phenoxyethanol, retinyl palmitate and tocopheryl acetate.
- Germstar contains fragrance and unknown emollient mix.
- GermX contains fragrance, tocopheryl acetate, benzophenone-4 and artificial colors/dyes.
- Gold Bond contains fragrance, distearyldimonium chloride, petrolatum, glyceryl laurate, tocopheryl acetate, phytonadione, DMDM hydantoin, methylparaben, propylparaben, PEG-8 dimethicone and benzyl alcohol.
- Hand Clens contains quaternium-12, propylene glycol, cetrimonium chloride, cocamidopropyl betaine, diazolidinyl urea, methylparaben and propylparaben.
- Hands2Go contains DMDM hydantoin.
- Healing Waters contains fragrance, triethanolamine, tocopheryl acetate and artificial colors/dyes.
- Kleenex contains fragrance, propylene glycol, petrolatum, aminomethyl propanol and tocopheryl acetate.
- L'Autre Peau contains fragrance and artificial colors/dyes.
- Purell contains fragrance, aminomethyl propanol, tocopheryl acetate and artificial colors/dyes. Purell Naturals doesn't have fragrance, but still contains aminomethyl propanol and tocopheryl acetate.
- Safe Hands contains fragrance, triethylene glycol, propylene glycol and artificial colors/dyes.
- Up & Up contains fragrance, benzophenone-4, propylene glycol and tocopheryl acetate.
- Wet Ones contains fragrance, PEG 8-dimethicone, PEG 60, quaternium-52, phenoxyethanol, methylparaben, ethylparaben and propylparaben.
- Zylast contains polyquaternium-10, benzyl alcohol, farnesol, tocopheryl acetate and chlorhexidine digluconate.