The average person has about 150 species of bacteria on their hands, according to research from the University of Colorado, Boulder.
And even though simple soap and water is the simplest, most effective way to keep hands clean, more and more people are relying on the convenience of hand sanitizers. A Credence Research report issued in January estimated that the global market will increase nearly 13% by 2025.
Lance Price, director of the Antibiotic Resistance Action Center at George Washington University, prefers soap over sanitizer but recognizes that people don’t always have access to a sink. This is especially true in the summer months, when making trips to the airport for vacation travel or camping out at summer music festivals. He says to avoid any products with the words “antibacterial” and instead choose “alcohol-based” ones.
It is, he adds, superior to doing nothing, especially if you’re going to be eating or touching your mouth.
Janet Glowicz, infection preventionist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says there’s not a clear winner in the hand sanitizer vs. hand-washing debate; it depends on what activity you’re doing. “If your hands are not visibly dirty, sanitizer is fine,” she says. “One is not preferred over the other.”
She suggests looking for products that contain 60% to 95% alcohol. (Some bacteria are becoming more tolerant of lower doses.) And keep your hands wet for 20 seconds after application, which gives the alcohol enough time to kill the germs.
While they’re effective at killing germs, hand sanitizers can dry out your hands and have a sterile, alcohol-heavy scent. Market leaders include Vi-Jon, Inc., the makers of Germ-X Hand Sanitizer, and Akron, Ohio-based GOJO Industries,, the parent brand of Purell.
But a new slate of organic, environmentally friendly brands is now on the market, smelling much better than those with a typical antiseptic aroma. Some, like the EO Products Hand Sanitizer Gel, come in a lavender scent that will remind you of a spa day. Others offer untraditional hand-sanitizer fragrances that can range from vanilla cinnamon to watermelon. We tested a few of the latest releases and picked our favorites.
The luxurious clean
With a light but thorough texture and a blend of floral notes, the Byredo Suede Rinse-Free Hand Wash is at the top its class. The scent smells more like a moisturizer and combines pear, bergamot and lily of the valley on a bed of musk, velvet plum and amber. The combination completely conceals the smell of its germ-zapping alcohol. As an added bonus, the sleek black tube is a classy addition to any handbag or pocket, and its screw-on lid protects against spills. Just a small dollop leaves hands soft and refreshed. $35 for 1 fluid ounce
The won’t-dry-out-your-hands clean
The Aesop Resurrection Rinse-Free Hand Wash has the consistency of regular Germ-X, but that’s where the similarities end. The mix of mandarin rind, rosemary and cedar scents disguises the alcohol base, and the end result is a fresh-but-not-sticky feeling. A dime-sized dollop in the palm is more than enough to cover both hands. $10 for 1.7 fl oz
The multi-purpose clean
Jao Hand Refresher, which comes in both spray and gel forms, can be used to clean hands but also for aftershave, underarm refresher and acne cream. The scent combines lavender, tea tree, eucalyptus, geranium and sage, which helps disguise the 65% alcohol base. The quick-drying spray version is ideal for sanitizing your phone, wallet or keys, while the liquid version is extra-watery, so a little bit goes a long way. $18 for 8 fl oz
The clean to brag about on Instagram
Made for social media, Touchland Power Mist comes in bright packaging and fun fragrances such as citrus, watermelon, vanilla cinnamon, and forest berry. The sleek-but-sturdy white bottles look like what would happen if Apple got in the hand-sanitizer game. Along with 67% alcohol, they also contain lime and lemon essential oils, plus aloe vera to minimize the alcohol drying out your skin. You might need a few squirts to cover both hands. One downside: no cap on the lid to prevent pocket spills. $12 for 1.29 fl oz
The zen clean
Lavender has become a common scent for hand sanitizers, but EO Products Hand Sanitizer Gel ranks above the rest. The lavender is sourced from farms in France and Bulgaria that have on-site distilleries, which means the oils are extracted immediately after harvesting, when the plants are most potent. It’s designed to have an aromatherapy effect while also killing germs. And, for the environmentally-conscious, the alcohol is derived from non-GMO sugar cane-still 99.9% effective against common germs but a more natural alternative. $9 for 8 fl oz
The kid-friendly clean
The original scent from CleanWell was the most refreshing of those we tested. The orange vanilla, in particular, smelled pleasantly like an orange cream soda-ideal for reluctant young hand washers. Each bottle contains up to 225 sprays and has an easy-to-open cap that flips shut to prevent spills. It doesn’t contain alcohol but claims to kill 99.9% of germs, using botanical ingredients such as thymol. The spray is more powerful than others, making it easier to ensure kids get enough on their hands to be effective. $4 for 1 fl oz
The wipe clean
When liquid hand sanitizers won’t remove the dirt, it’s time to call in cleansing wipes. Herban Essentials makes essential oil towelettes in five scents, including eucalyptus and lemon, and they don’t contain harsh chemicals or alcohol. They’re ideal for removing dirt or makeup, or just to freshen up after a workout. The scent is pleasant, but not overwhelming for sensitive noses. $16 for 20 towelettes