Are All Hand Sanitizer Gels Created Equally?

TL;DR: It’s the wild west with virtually no oversight. is fully compliant, registered, and authorized. We’re here for your and your family. Many are out for a fast buck, saying things like: “made in an FDA Approved Facility.” Well so is Oxycontin, and we can’t sell that either. Only buy from companies who print their NDC numbers, as required by the FDA, that you can verify with the FDA.


You see a lot of options out there on the market with pricing all over the place. This page is designed to help you make sense of what’s out there and keep your family, co-workers, and customers safe. We’re here to help even if you don’t buy from us.

What’s the difference between ethanol and isopropyl alcohol?

You can read a lot about isopropyl on the wikipedia page, but the gist of it is that it comes from acetone or propene (similar to propane). It’s a great solvent, but studies show it’s more effective at killing bacteria than ethanol. Even the CDC recognizes that ethanol is a great virucide and endorses the WHO  formula at a concentration of 80% to quickly kill 99.99% of germs.

Why is the WHO formula not a gel? Gels require a thickener which dilutes the sanitizer and reduces efficacy.  You can read more about it at our post on how to qualify your supplier.

What are the different types of ethanol?

There are basically 3 types of ethanol:

  • Fuel grade – what’s used when you see “may contain 10% ethanol” at the pump which may contain toxins and should never be used for sanitizer or ingestion.
  • Industrial grade – a variety of uses including making hand sanitizer, but to be used as hand sanitizer it has to pass the FDA FCC (foreign contamination chemistry) requirements. Essentially less than 300 parts/million of dangerous impurities, more on those below.
  • Spirits grade – 100% pure, 200 proof grain liquor. This is what they make your favorite spirits from or use in vary specific chemical and industrial processes where there is strict requirements to not include any impurities.

So how bad can the ethanol be?

We require lab tests from suppliers to verify the impurities and we test their deliveries. Several times we’ve been approached for ethanol at great prices, for a reason: It’s toxic and we won’t buy it. Only manufacturers without an understanding of the chemistry and possible impacts buy it to make a fast buck at your expense. Not just your wallet, but your health. 

Some people complain of a smell, which usually originates from a hard to filter impurity, especially in the summer months, called acetaldehyde. Some points of note:

  • Acute exposure to its vapors results in irritation of the eyes, skin, and respiratory tract. Acetaldehyde is reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.
  • It has a general narcotic action and also causes irritation of mucous membranes. Large doses may cause death from respiratory paralysis.
  • It has been shown to increase the risk of developing cirrhosis of the liver, multiple forms of cancer, and alcoholism.


We also look for methanol, ethyl acetates, and benzoic acid.

Some highlights about what’s wrong with these impurities:

methanol – Methanol is highly flammable and toxic. Direct ingestion of more than 10mL can cause permanent blindness by destruction of the optic nerve, poisoning of the central nervous system, coma and possibly death. These hazards are also true if methanol vapors are inhaled.

ethyl acetate – CDC cites symtoms you may have heard about from some hand sanitizers: irritation eyes, skin, nose, throat; narcosis; dermatitis.

benzoic acid

Immediately or shortly after exposure to benzoic acid, the following health effects can occur:

  • Eye damage
  • Irritation of the skin, resulting in a rash, redness, and/or a burning feeling
  • Irritation to the nose, throat and lungs if inhaled, which may cause coughing, wheezing and/or shortness of breath


In addition to these short-term exposure effects, prolonged or repeated exposure to benzoic acid can cause drying and cracking of the skin with redness and itching. Exposure to benzoic acid in high concentrations, particularly in susceptible individuals, may cause a skin allergy. If an allergy develops, even exposure to very low levels can cause itching and a skin rash.

Why are there different percentages?

You’ve seen 62%, 70%, 75%, 80% alcohol concentrations in products in the market. Frankly, why settle for a weaker diluted product when you can have the most effective and best recommend by an alphabet soup of government agencies and international organizations, (FDA, EPA, CDC, and WHO)?