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Alcohol-Free Hand Sanitizer May Be Effective Against COVID-19

Researchers say this alternative could help alleviate shortages during the pandemic

Woman sanitizing hand by nurse's station in hospital


En español | Researchers at Brigham Young University (BYU) say they have found an alternative to alcohol-based sanitizers that is effective against the coronavirus.

In a study published online in the Journal of Hospital Infection, the researchers say they found that a solution of benzalkonium chloride as well as three available disinfectants containing quaternary ammonium compounds wiped out at least 99.9 percent of the virus within 15 seconds.

Antonio Solis Leal, a Ph.D. student at BYU who conducted the study's experiments, said in a statement that “having more options to disinfect hospitals and public places is critical” during the pandemic, when alcohol-based sanitizers may be in short supply.

Study coauthor Benjamin Ogilvie, a microbiology and molecular biology graduate student, said in a statement that benzalkonium chloride “does not cause the familiar ‘burn’ feeling you might know from using alcohol hand sanitizer. It can make life easier for people who have to sanitize hands a lot, like health care workers, and maybe even increase compliance with sanitizing guidelines."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has stressed the importance of hand hygiene during the pandemic, recommending that people wash their hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water when they are visibly soiled, before eating and after using the restroom, among other times. The CDC advises that alcohol-based hand sanitizers (with greater than 60 percent ethanol or 70 percent isopropanol as active ingredients) be used in health care settings to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

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The agency has not recommended a nonalcohol alternative, although the Food and Drug Administration has deemed benzalkonium chloride eligible for use in hand rubs for health care workers. As of now, the CDC says that available evidence indicates that benzalkonium chloride “has less reliable activity against certain bacteria and viruses than either of the alcohols."

Brad Berges, an associate professor at BYU's College of Life Sciences and coauthor of the study, said in a statement that he and the other researchers hope their findings encourage the CDC to include additional hand sanitizers in its recommendations.

"A couple of others have looked at using these compounds against COVID, but we're the first to actually look at it in a practical time frame, using four different options, with the realistic circumstance of having dirt on your hands before you use it,” Berges said.