The best hand sanitizers to buy when Purell is out of stock

  • If hand washing is not an option, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend using a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol to remove germs as a good alternative.
  • We tested 47 hand sanitizers that meet the CDC guidelines and the US Food & Drug Administration's (FDA) safety standards to find the best ones.
  • Hand sanitizers from palmpalm, Bare Hands, Sunytizer, Touchland, and Oars+Alps ranked among the best in our testing, and we've included runner ups to each one as the stock has been volatile in stores and online.
  • We also consulted Tania Elliott, MD, who specializes in infectious diseases related to allergies and immunology for internal medicine at NYU Langone Health, on how to use hand sanitizer correctly in an earlier version of this guide.
  • This article was medically reviewed by Aimee Desrosiers, PA-C, MS, MPH, a practicing infectious diseases physician assistant in Washington, DC.

If you can't wash your hands properly with soap and water, you need an effective hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. When the novel coronavirus pandemic hit, the humble hand sanitizer became essential to help prevent the spread of the virus when handwashing was not an option. As the pandemic continued, sanitizers from household brands like Purell sold out even before they hit the shelves. 

While Purell remains a gold standard of hand sanitizers, the stock is questionable at best. We spoke with a brand rep about the volatile stock and focused on hand sanitizers that are all readily available online or in stores so you can keep yourself protected when hand washing isn't possible. You can read about how we tested them at the end of the guide. All of the products in this guide meet the CDC's standards and FDA's guidelines for effective hand sanitizers and do not contain methanol or 1-proponal, which are toxic to humans and have been found in certain formulas. FAQs on these topics are also at the end of our guide.

Over the course of several weeks, I tested more than a dozen brands and 47 different types of hand sanitizer from gels to sprays wipes against a specific series of tests to help you find the best hand sanitizer. 

These are the best hand sanitizers:

  • The best hand sanitizer overall: Palmpalm Hand Sanitizer Gel
  • The best hand sanitizer spray: Bare Hands Hand Sanitizer
  • The best hand sanitizer for dry skin: Sunytizer Hand Sanitizer 
  • The best hand sanitizer for travel: Touchland Power Mist
  • The best hand sanitizer wipes: Oars + Alps Antibacterial Aloe Wipes

The best hand sanitizer overall

Palmpalm Hand Sanitizer Gel meets CDC sanitizing standards for an effective hand sanitizer with 70% ethyl alcohol and is offered as a gel, spray, or wipe in a variety of sizes.

At 70% ethyl alcohol, Palmpalm Hand Sanitizer Gel meets the CDC requirements for an effective hand sanitizer. Similar to how you'd use Purell, you rub the gel on your hands until they're dry. This took around 20 seconds during my testing and the additional glycerin left my hands feeling soft without any stickiness or irritation. While I often prefer an unscented product, the cucumber melon scent is light and dissipates quickly.

Palmpalm is available in multiple sizes and as a gel, spray, or wipe on the brand's website and Amazon. While safe for use by children, as with any hand-sanitizing product, care should be taken to keep it out of reach to prevent swallowing.

Palmpalm was founded in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic and was first supplied to essential workers. As the pandemic continued and shortages for hand sanitizers grew more apparent, the company expanded to sell products to the public. The company operates and controls its own supply chain so it's able to create and sell its hand sanitizers without going through a separate manufacturer and experiencing bottlenecks in the process. 

Pros: Contains 70% ethyl alcohol, dries quickly, gentle on hands, non-sticky, available in multiple formats and on multiple sites, reasonably priced, made in the US 

Cons: Not available in brick and mortar stores 

Best hand sanitizer spray

Bare Hands Hand Sanitizer meets the required amount of ethyl alcohol needed to kill germs while being gentle on hands. The continuous spray covers hands easily and dries quickly.

Bare Hands Hand Sanitizer is available in gel, pump spray, and continuous spray formulas. I tested all three variations and was impressed with the continuous aerosol spray the most. 

The formula contains 62% ethyl alcohol to kill bacteria, as well as aloe and glycerin to prevent dry skin. While the gel and pump spray work well, the continuous spray is quicker to use and provides more thorough coverage to hands with less rubbing. I found the spray especially easy to use for my two-year-old grandson, providing an even coating of sanitizer to his hands that dried in around 10 seconds. There is a distinct scent of alcohol but it dissipates quickly.

If the name sounds familiar, it's because Bare Hands is developed by the sunscreen brand Bare Republic. All of its products are dermatologist-tested, paraben-free, and not tested on animals. Products are available online as well as in many drug and grocery store chains.

Pros: Contains 62% ethyl alcohol, easy-to-use spray mist for complete coverage, dries quickly, gentle on skin, widely available

Cons: Overspray from the product during application may cause discoloration of some non-colorfast fabrics

Best hand sanitizer for dry skin

Sunytizer Hand Sanitizer with Aloe Vera contains 70% ethyl alcohol to sanitize hands but leaves them so moisturized that you may want to use it instead of hand lotion.

When I first looked at the bottle of Sunytizer Hand Sanitizer, I wasn't impressed. The label isn't eye-catching and the gel pump packaging is basic — and then I gave it a try.

The 70% ethyl alcohol level takes care of the germs on my hands and the glycerin and aloe formula leaves my hands feeling soft and moisturized. I have dry skin, so constant hand-washing and repeated use of some hand sanitizers have left them feeling rough in the last few months, but Sunytizer has taken care of that.

Sunytizer was developed by a skincare lab in California, which explains the use of hydroxethylcelluose — a thickening agent used in many skincare and personal lubricating products. I found the product to be so soothing that I use it as a balm after washing my hands. The large bottle and pump make it perfect for sitting next to the sink or on a desk, and it's easy-to-use. The gel is not runny, spreads easily, and dries within 20 seconds. My hands were a little sticky when they were still damp, but the stickiness was gone once my hands were dry. The citrus scent is not over-powering and dissipates quickly.

Pros: Contains 70% ethyl alcohol, leaves skin feeling moisturized, paraben and sulfate-free, never tested on animals, made in the US

Cons: Only available in a 15.2 fl. oz. bottle

Best hand sanitizer for travel

Touchland Power Mist is sleek, compact, and delivers the sanitizing power you need when traveling or running errands.

The first thing I noticed about Touchland Power Mist was the dispenser. While other hand sanitizers are presented in round spray or pump bottles, or squeezable tubes, Touchland's dispenser is flat and rectangular, like a thicker version of a smartphone. You can even purchase a silicone case with a keyring to loop around your purse, pocket, or backpack.

Containing 67% ethyl alcohol, the hand sanitizer is effective in killing germs. It comes in eight scents — mint, watermelon, forest berry, lavender, citrus, vanilla cinnamon, aloe vera, and neutral. Each scent contains aloe and essential oils that leave hands feeling moisturized and lightly scented. The sanitizer dries in under 10 seconds and the fine mist allows you to easily spray all of the nooks and crannies of your hands. Each container promises 500+ spritzes, but you'll need three or four per application to fully coat your hands.

While a bit more expensive than other hand sanitizers, the convenience and moisturizing qualities make it the best for travel, or more realistically, running errands. 

Touchland was created in 2010 in Barcelona and became available stateside in 2017. It was among the first to revamp what hand sanitizers could look like as it distinguished itself from a sea of household brands like Purell. We had positive experiences when we first tested Touchland in 2019, which you can read here.

Pros: Contains 67% ethyl alcohol, dermatologically tested, conveniently-sized container, eight scents available, moisturizing formula

Cons: Overspray from the alcohol in the product may cause discoloration of some fabrics

Best hand sanitizing wipes

Oars + Alps Hand Sanitizing Wipes provide gentle but effective cleaning with 65% ethyl alcohol and more protection than standard wet wipes.

Disinfecting wipes for hard surfaces have been difficult to find during the pandemic and so have sanitizing hand wipes. Those that are available are usually saturated with 100% alcohol that leaves hands extremely dry and rough, or benzalkonium chloride, an antimicrobial which according to the CDC may have less reliable activity against certain bacteria and viruses than alcohol-based products. Oars + Alps Hand Sanitizing Wipes offer the germ-killing properties of 65% ethyl alcohol combined with aloe in a soothing wipe.

When comparing different brands of wipes, I took into account the size of the wipe and the cost per piece. At this price, Oars + Alps wipes are around 24 cents each and a generous 6 by 8.5 inches that can deliver a substantial amount of product to both hands. They are presented in a resealable pouch that is perfect for a diaper bag, purse, or car. The wipes are fragrance-free and leave your hands dry and moisturized in around 10 seconds.

Oars + Alps is an S.C. Johnson company best known for its natural skincare line that's formulated for on-the-go lifestyles. Most of the items are packaged in stick form, or in this case, as wipes, making them more convenient than tubes or bottles that can burst and cause a mess. 

Pros: Contains 65% ethyl alcohol, fragrance-free, moisturizing, large sheets, quick drying

Cons: Can dry out if not resealed properly

What else we recommend

We tested 47 hand sanitizers and picked five to be among the best after analyzing performance. Some of them just missed the cut based on our rankings of performance, ingredients, delivery method, availability, and in the case of wipes, cost per use. While the following were not selected as being among the best, they're all effective hand sanitizers and we'd still recommend them.

Clean Drops: This is an effective hand sanitizer that contains 78% ethyl alcohol. It dries quickly and doesn't dry out my hands, and it's unscented, affordable, and has easy-to-use leak-proof packaging. It's not the best hand sanitizer overall because it's only offered in one small size and does not have a spray or wipe variety. The brand is made in the US and distributed by Look Beauty Inc., a Toronto based company that also owns skincare brand Masque Bar.

Hello Bello Hand Sanitizer Spray: Co-founded by Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard, Hello Bello's Hand Sanitizer Spray meets CDC standards for an effective hand sanitizer, does not dry skin, and is offered in a delicate Apple Blossom scent or unscented. It was a strong contender for the best spray but was not available in as many formats or outlets as Bare Hands. The product is readily available on the Hello Bello website and at Walmart. 

Noshinku Bergamot Hand Sanitizer: The size of a credit card and only slightly thicker, the sleek Noshinku Bergamot Hand Sanitizer can easily slip into a pocket. Made with 70% ethyl alcohol; moisturizing oils like jojoba, argan, and coconut; and scented with Italian bergamot, this sanitizing mist will leave hands moisturized and well-perfumed. This hand sanitizer brand was created in 2018 and each sprayer has 300+ spritzes, though you'll still need at least three or four to cover both sides of your hand. The price point is too high to be selected as the best hand sanitizer for dry skin.

Welly Clean Hands: Welly is best known for first aid products and one of them is Welly Clean Hands. The sanitizer gel contains 66.5% ethyl alcohol and comes in single-use packets that are perfect for tossing in a purse, briefcase, or backpack. Although it takes two hands to open the packet, the size and convenience make it a good travel choice that will leave your hands clean in around 20 seconds with no bulky dispenser.

Poo-pourri Sanitizing Wipes: The brand made its name in masking bathroom odors and now it's wiping out germs with 65% ethyl alcohol hand wipes. While gentle on the skin, the wipes are only available in a lavender scent and are a bit smaller than Oars + Alps wipes. They are offered in a 20-count resealable pouch at around 24 cents per wipe.

What else we considered

Of the hand sanitizers we tested, there were several that we didn't consider to be among the best due to a variety of reasons — limited availability, limited sizes, and more. Here are the items we tested that didn't make the cut. 

Bravo Sierra Hand Sanitizer: This meets all of the CDC hand sanitizer standards for an effective sanitizer and comes in a squeeze bottle. The gel dries in 15 seconds and leaves hands somewhat moisturized. It has been field-tested by 1,000 US service members and 5% of the proceeds go toward the military's Morale, Welfare, and Recreation program. The company was founded in 2018 and is known for military-inspired unisex grooming products, you can read our review of its products here. Wider availability would have moved it into a contender for the best hand sanitizer overall. 

Baby Bum Hand Sanitizer Spray: This spray delivers a fine mist of effective hand sanitizer with 62% ethyl alcohol and a light coconut scent. The product is tested by pediatricians for use by children, contains additional plant-based ingredients for hydration, and is hypoallergenic. Baby Bum is a sister-brand of Sun Bum, the popular sunscreen brand. This would have been a top contender for the best spray if there were more variety in sizes, a lower price point, and wider distribution.

Olika Hydrating Hand Sanitizer: The first thing that you'll notice about Olika Hydrating Hand Sanitizer is the dispenser — it's shaped like a bird. Once you get past the cute packaging, the hand sanitizing mist kills germs with 65% ethyl alcohol and moisturizes with aloe. It also comes in a travel version with a carabiner for purse or backpack straps, and a large refill bag. While refills are available for the cute dispenser, the higher price point took it out of the running for best hand sanitizer spray or best travel hand sanitizer. We tested the brand back in 2017 when its hand sanitizer included dry wipes in the base so you could make your own wipes with the spray.

NudeStix Antibacterial Hand Gel: Many skin-care and beauty companies have started developing hand sanitizer because it contains ingredients you'd normally find in cosmetics — alcohol. Among them is NudeStix, a brand best known for makeup products that come in convenient pencil form. In addition to the 62% ethanol alcohol for an effective sanitizer, NudeStix Hand Gel also provides soothing moisturizers from natural plant extracts and oils. The gel is offered in a pump bottle or in a travel pouch complete with a keychain to attach to straps. Unfortunately, the hand sanitizer is only available on its own site or at Sephora, a specialized beauty store.

Green Goo Hand Sanitizer: It may not have the most appealing name but the product has 70% ethyl alcohol content to kill germs. It's available in scents like aloe and lavender. The brand is a women-owned business that makes plant-based first aid and body care products. This was another strong contender for the best hand sanitizer for dry skin, but stock is limited to its own site or Amazon through its own storefront, and not via Prime. 

Earth to Skin Hand Sanitizer Gel: This is affordable and effective with 72% ethyl alcohol content. It doesn't contain sulfates or parabens and is never tested on animals. Earth to Skin is one of Walmart's in-house brands, and it usually makes beauty products. Since it's only found at Walmart, it's a little more limiting than others we've tested, and it's only available as 2-ounce bottles or 1-gallon jars.  

Grove Collaborative Hand Sanitizer Gel: Online retailer Grove Collaborative has started to make its own products, and one of them is hand sanitizer with 62% ethyl alcohol. It comes in several scents including blood orange, pear, and watermelon in two sizes. A separate holder can be ordered to hold the travel size securely to straps. It's available only when you join Grove Collaborative, so there was a barrier to entry.

How we tested hand sanitizers

Knowing that many legacy brands of hand sanitizers like Purell or Germ-X are low in stock in stores and online, we decided to only test ones that were more readily available for this update. After assessing availability, I tested 47 hand sanitizers across a wide spectrum of brands, prices, and formulas — including wipes, gels, and sprays.

I used a different hand sanitizer at least three times each day for several weeks while on the go and when working at my desk. I took into account how the product was formulated (as a gel, spray, or wipe), how easy it was to use, and how long it took the hand sanitizer to dry on my hands. I also noted how it felt when first applied and how my hands felt after the product dried.

I also researched each product to determine if it met the amount of alcohol for an effective hand sanitizer according to the CDC guidelines and FDA guidance, and made sure that they were not on the recall list of dangerous products (more below). All of this data was noted onto a spreadsheet and carefully analyzed before making the final selections of the best hand sanitizers.

 

Why Purell is not included in our guide

While shortages and price gouging of legacy hand sanitizer brands like Purell have occurred, we've excluded them from our guide for now until they're more readily available online and in stores.

"We have been producing Purell Hand Sanitizer at more than double pre-pandemic levels since February, however, we recognize that access has been limited for consumers," said Samantha Williams, senior director of corporate communications at GOJO, which produces Purell. "This is because of the urgent need to supply these essential products to hospitals, first responders, and other places where they play a critical public health role." Williams told us that despite retailers limiting quantities to ensure everyone has equal hand sanitizers, the brand has shipped more products to its retail partners in October than any other month. They've also increased production space to ramp up production efforts over the next six months. 

When should you use a hand sanitizer?

We consulted  Tania Elliott, MD, who specializes in infectious diseases related to allergies and immunology for internal medicine at NYU Langone Health, on how to use hand sanitizer correctly.

Washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds is best to remove germs and prevent the spread of any virus. But if you're in a situation where you can't easily wash your hands such as traveling, commuting, or running errands, then hand sanitizers are a viable option. Use a sanitizer that contains at least 60% ethanol (sometimes seen as ethyl) or at least 70% isopropyl (or isopropanol) alcohol, though it's important to note that hand sanitizers are not able to kill all types of germs or remove harmful chemicals like pesticides and heavy metals, according to the CDC. Alcohol-free sanitizers that rely on other ingredients are not effective in killing germs like norovirus and coronavirus.

How to use hand sanitizer correctly

More important than using an effective hand sanitizer is to use it correctly. If your hands are dirty, greasy, or heavily soiled, sanitizer alone will not be effective. Elliott suggests wiping your hands off with a paper towel or rinsing with water if that's available before doing a double application of hand sanitizer. This helps it remove most of the grime so the sanitizer can be effective.

Once your hands are visibly clean, use at least a quarter-sized dollop of gel or enough sanitizer spray to completely cover both sides of your hands each time. Rub it in for about 20 seconds paying attention to the areas between fingers and under your nails until your hands are dry — don't wipe it off.

Warnings about hand sanitizer safety and deceiving advertising

The FDA has found that some hand sanitizers sold to consumers contain methanol or 1-propanol. According to the FDA, both ingredients are not acceptable for use in hand sanitizers because of toxicity to humans. They can cause serious side effects when absorbed through the skin and can cause blindness or death when swallowed.

Some hand sanitizers are also being packaged to look like food and drinks and include dyes and flavors, which can deceive shoppers into accidentally ingesting them. Any type of hand sanitizer can be toxic if ingested and we do not advise that anyone ingest hand sanitizer. Keep all hand sanitizers out of the reach of children under the age of six and do not use them on or near the eyes. Read the full list of brands to avoid here.

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