What are the Different Types of Foam Hand Sanitizer?

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  • Written By: Kaitlyn N. Watkins
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 09 October 2019
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As society’s understanding of germs and how they are spread improves, the importance of hand washing has become clear. The pursuit of the most effective and convenient form of ridding one’s hands of germs has moved beyond common soap and water washings to hand sanitizing formulas that often do not require water for washing or towels for drying. A popular form of this kind of disinfectant is the foam hand sanitizer, which comes in alcohol-based, benzalkonium chloride-based and scented and moisturizing forms. When combined with motion-detecting dispensers that do not require manual pumping, foam hand sanitizers can be very effective at killing and reducing the spread of germs in public places and in the home.

A prevalent form of foam hand sanitizer is the non-alcohol-based benzalkonium chloride formula, which has been used in hospitals and schools since the middle of the 20th century. A major benefit of the non-alcohol antimicrobial solution is that it is not flammable and non-aerosol, making it a safer and environmentally friendly product. The benzalkonium chloroide in foam hand sanitizer can actually provide up to three hours of germ protection on hands from one use, which is why the more it is used, the more effective it becomes at killing germs.


Alcohol-based sanitizers are more frequently found in gel forms as opposed to foaming forms, but foaming dispensers make it possible for gels and liquids to produce a sudsing foam. An alcohol-based foam hand sanitizer contains at least 60 percent alcohol and is effective at killing 99.99 percent of germs on hands. After the sanitizer dries on hands, usually within eight to 10 seconds, there is no residual germ-killing protection, and it needs to be reapplied frequently. Studies have shown that frequent use of alcohol-based sanitizers can strip the skin of protective cells and oils, causing the hands to be more vulnerable to germs.

Scented and moisturizing formulas also are available because of concern regarding hand dryness and strong chemical smells. These sanitizers are more commonly available in personal or home bathroom foam hand sanitizer dispensers than in the commercial dispensers found in hospitals, schools and places of business. An added benefit to scented foam hand sanitizers is that the more pleasing the smell is to the consumer, the more likely and more frequently he or she will use it. Although benzalkonium chloride sanitizers do not have the drying effects of alcohol-based sanitizers, moisturizing ingredients and essential oils have been added to certain brands in order to appeal to skincare-conscious consumers.


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