What Are Spores? How Hand Sanitizer Kills Spore-Forming Bacteria

Hand sanitizer is good at its job -- killing harmful microbes that pose a threat to your health. However, nothing is absolute, and the spores produced from microbes such as fungi and bacteria can be an illusive and dangerous threat. 

Knowing what spores are and how they can be killed can be very valuable to you during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

What Are Spores?

Spores are cells that some bacteria, plants, and fungi can produce. They’re often used in spreading and reproducing for the organism. Bacteria and fungi are listed under germs, and therefore the spores they produce must be avoided with extreme caution. 

Spores are one of the hardest parts of germs to get rid of. Many alcohol-based hand sanitizers claim to kill up to 99% of all germs, including bacteria and fungi, but even they cannot kill all existing spores. Some spores, called endospores, have such thick walls and are so resistant to sanitizers that they cannot be destroyed unless exposed to both high temperature and high pressure, which is something that hospitals have to do. 

So, while using hand sanitizers can be very helpful, keep in mind that whereas a sanitizer might kill the bacteria, it may not have killed all of its spores. Therefore, washing your hands with soap and water still is your best bet of ridding yourself of as many contaminants as possible. 

How Does Hand Sanitizer Work?

Alcohol-based hand sanitizer works by killing off the protein layers of microbes, thus rendering them virtually useless. Microbes exist in every living thing and can be a force of good as well as bad. When they are bad, they are usually called germs and exist in four forms: bacteria, fungi, viruses, and protozoa. 

Hand sanitizer with an alcohol consistency of 60-95% alcohol can kill off most of these germs, whereas hand sanitizer with a non-alcohol base usually cannot, instead only slightly slowing the growth rate of bacteria or killing off only a few. 

Hand sanitizer can be a great piece of personal protective equipment, but it is not a replacement for washing your hands with soap and water. Washing your hands is still the gold standard of getting rid of germs, with hand sanitizer merely a minor substitute or standby. 

In fact, using too much hand sanitizer without washing your hands in between can actually lead to the sanitizer creating a filmy material on your hands that can trap germs inside, ones that you normally would like to keep out. 

Using hand sanitizer can be simple, and yet so many people get it wrong. First, make sure your hands aren’t too dirty or sweaty, otherwise it will be hard for the sanitizer to penetrate to the skin and help as much as it needs to. Next, be sure to use enough sanitizer to cover the entirety of your hands. Finally, make sure you let the sanitizer dry fully before using your hands for other things, 20 seconds is usually a good bet. 

What Type of Hand Sanitizer Should You Buy?

When buying hand sanitizer, you should always make sure it is alcohol-based using either ethyl alcohol (ethanol) or isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol). The alcohol concentration should be between 60-95% for maximum efficiency. 

Hand sanitizers generally mainly come in four forms: gel, liquid, foam, or spray. Our hand sanitizer as Hope Health Supply comes in a convenient spray form, easily fitting into a pocket while still carrying a powerful punch!

Don’t buy hand sanitizers that don’t include ingredient lists with the bottle, as sometimes they can contain harmful additives that are skin irritants.

Be careful to check the expiration date on the sanitizer and don’t buy a new one that has an expiration date coming up within a year or so, as they are meant to last 2-3 years long.  

Does Hand Sanitizer Expire, and What Should You Do With It?

Although most hand sanitizers do have an expiration date, there are no studies that can conclusively confirm that hand sanitizer traditionally “expires” after a certain amount of time. 

The reason why the expiration date exists is because alcohol evaporates when exposed to air, therefore over time, your alcohol-based hand sanitizer will start to lose its efficiency. The expiration date is up to the manufacturer to decide, and they mainly base it off of when they think enough alcohol evaporates to the point where the sanitizer would be useless. 

Industry standards usually give 2-3 years for hand sanitizer before it expires. Can you still use it after that point? Yes, but it is likely to not be as effective as you would like. With the COVID-19 pandemic, you should use the strongest and most reliable hand sanitizer possible. 

When your hand sanitizer hits the expiration date, you can simply throw it away in your garbage. If the bottle has been punctured or is otherwise leaking or sharp, put it in a ziplock bag first. Many bottles can be recycled as well, and if you do so, be sure to fully empty and clean the bottle out first before recycling it. 

If a sanitizer has been recalled, then the situation changes a bit. Most recalls will have information given to you about how to dispose of the sanitizer properly, but in many cases you’ll be fine to throw it away in a ziplock bag still (just don’t recycle it). If you still don’t feel comfortable with that, there are hazardous waste containers at some pharmacies that you can use instead. 

Why Is This Information Important?

Knowing about health and cleanliness during a pandemic is vitally important, and can even help save lives. Studies have shown that hand sanitizer can dramatically intercept the risk of accidentally catching or spreading pathogens.

Although washing your hands with soap and water is still your best option -- there are many situations where that isn't a choice and hand sanitizer is a great alternative for you to use instead. Gaining a piece of mind in regards to your health can be extremely beneficial during a pandemic. 

However, this information is also important in that you must be aware of the shortcomings of hand sanitizer, in addition to its usefulness. As said before, some spores are not killed by hand sanitizer and you must retain the same level of caution around others or when you yourself are in a situation that seems non-hygienic. Additionally, swallowing hand sanitizer can be very dangerous and if you, a child, or a pet does consume it -- call 911 and poison control immediately. 

Furthermore, it is important to add that you should never try to make your own hand sanitizer, or add alcohol to already existing hand sanitizer. Sanitizers have a delicate balance and one wrong move can cause an issue with the formula which can then extend to harming you by being ineffective, toxic, or even too strong. 

To Conclude

We at Hope Health Supply know that in the fight against germs and the COVID-19 pandemic, hand sanitizer can be a great ally. However, no matter how well it kills harmful germs such as bacteria and fungi, these microbes can leave behind spores that can still travel and make you sick. Therefore, use hand sanitizer as your second in command behind washing your hands with soap and water.