Hand Sanitizers: Good or Bad?

Whenever I see people dousing themselves with hand sanitizers I wonder if they are aware of what is in it and its effects.  We don’t use commercial hand sanitizers (except for the one I mention below made of essential oils) because I don’t believe they are effective in preventing illness or increasing cleanliness.  I would assume that those are the reasons why one would use these products.  Everything I have learned about hand sanitizers makes it seem like they do more harm then good.

Here is why…

They are harmful to the Environment. Most anti-bacterial products contain Triclosan, an antibacterial agent that kills bacteria. Some scientists are calling for the removal of triclosan from consumer products because it is building up in the ocean’s food web. One-third of the bottle nose dolphins tested off South Carolina and almost one-quarter of those tested off Florida carried traces of triclosan in their blood. The concentrations found in the dolphins are known to disrupt the hormones and growth and development of other animals. Studies in bullfrogs found that triclosan disrupts the endocrine system – blocking the tadpoles’ development into frogs at concentrations found in the environment.  In addition, a 2008 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention three-quarters of people tested in the United States had triclosan in their urine.  A substance that can cause hormone disruption and growth problems isn’t something we want in the human body, or in animals for that matter.

They are damaging to your immune system.  Hand sanitizers kill bacteria on your hands.  The problem is that there are good bacteria and bad bacteria and the sanitizers aren’t selective.  Some bacteria may be the cause of getting us sick but other bacteria actually protect our immune system.  Killing off the friendly bacteria can damage our natural defenses against other infections.  We definitely don’t want to kill off that bacteria.  In regards to the bad bacteria, or the ones that can cause sicknesses, it’s not certain that its in our best interest to kill them either.  There is considerable evidence that some exposure to bacteria in the environment is actually beneficial because it helps the immune system develop. Some studies have shown an increase in allergies and asthma in people who were raised in an overly sterile environment.  Mothers are always trying to keep their kids away from germs but some exposure is not bad.  That’s not saying that kids shouldn’t wash their hands but using a harsh hand sanitizer even a few times a day probably isn’t helping a child’s immune system.

They might cause superbugs. In some countries, like Canada, the use of anti-bacterial products are not recommended because of resistance.  Resistance is already a problem with antibiotics because they have been overused.  Triclosan is thought to cause a similar resistance especially because it is very widely used.  The concept is easy to understand. If a product doesn’t kill all the germs, it’s the susceptible ones that get killed first, leaving the hardier ones behind. These can multiply and eventually outnumber the susceptible bugs.

What should we use instead of hand sanitizers?

  • Use soap and water to wash hands whenever available.
  • In the car I keep a spray bottle of a water & soap solution along with some wash cloths so in a pinch we can spray our hands with the solution and dry with wash cloths.  You could stash a roll of paper towel instead but washable clothes are more eco-friendly.
  • There are more natural versions of hand sanitizers available like the Thieves Hand Sanitizer from Young Living.
  • You could make your own hand sanitizer at home using essential oils (this is cheaper and gives you more control over the ingredients).

Recipe for Hand Essential Oil hand Sanitizer

  • 1/2 cup aloe vera gel
  • 3/4 cup rubbing alcohol
  • 10 drops essential oil – thieves or tea tree oil

Pour all ingredients into a food processor or blender and blend.  Put the mixture into a small bottle (can use an empty bottle from another hand sanitizer).

Do you use hand sanitizer?  What are your thoughts on this subject?

More information about hand sanitizers can be found on the below web pages:

This post was shared at the Real Food ForagerSimple Lives Thursday, and Mess Hall to Bistro


  1. says

    Thanks for linking your great post to FAT TUESDAY. This was very interesting! Hope to see you next week!

    Be sure to visit RealFoodForager.com on Sunday for Sunday Snippets – your post from Fat Tuesday may be featured there!

    If you have grain-free recipes please visit my Grain-Free Linky Carnival in support of my 28 day grain-free challenge! It will be open until November 2.


  2. says

    We rarely use hand sanitizer – maybe in a pinch when we don’t have a sink handy, like when we’re camping or at a fair when the only bathrooms are porta-potties. I always packed one in my newborn diaper bag for diaper changes on the go but didn’t always use it; I prefer wet wipes to rubbing something around with dirt/germs that may already be there.

    I believe all these “antibacterial” products actually make us more sick. What happened to building up natural immunity? Sure, you want to wash your hands after going to the bathroom, handling raw meat, etc…. but I see so many mothers/caretakers who squirt their kids’ hands with sanitizer every two seconds and get freaked out when they eat a piece of food that falls on the floor.

  3. says

    Thanks for this article. I plan on tweeting it to share with as many people as possible. I think sanitizers of all kinds are used far too much and without much thought!


  4. Anna Marie says

    HI i’m a big believer in natural health and share your opinions however I was hoping you would have some references to research that I could look into to learn more about what you are sharing. Thanks


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