The best hand sanitizers to buy when Purell is out of stock
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend using hand sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol.
- We tested 44 hand sanitizers that meet the CDC guidelines and the US Food & Drug Administration’s (FDA) safety standards.
- 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, according to the CDC. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the humble hand sanitizer became essential to help prevent the spread of the virus when handwashing wasn’t an option and continues to be the go-to sanitizing option.
It’s likely that the first brand that comes to mind when thinking of hand sanitizers is Purell; as Kleenex did for tissues, Purell’s become a popular and incredibly recognizable gold standard. But that popularity created a bit of an inventory problem as Purell hand sanitizer became increasingly difficult to find throughout the pandemic.
Though those stock shortages are mostly in the rearview, there’s no guarantee it will continue to stay that way. We spoke with a brand rep specifically about the volatile stock and what Purell’s doing to increase production to meet demand. And although Purell isn’t featured in this guide as a top pick (it would be if it was easier to get), we do link to our favorite Purell picks at the end of this guide and recommend it to anyone that’s able to buy it.
The focus of this guide is instead on hand sanitizers that are 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 each of them at the end of the guide and it’s worth pointing out that all of the products featured meet the CDC’s standards and FDA’s guidelines for effective hand sanitizers. Additionally, none of them contain methanol or 1-proponal, which are toxic to humans and have been found in certain formulas. FAQs on these topics can also be found at the end of the guide.
These are the best hand sanitizers:
- Best overall: Palmpalm Hand Sanitizer Gel
- Best spray: Bare Hands Hand Sanitizer
- Best for dry skin: Sunytizer Hand Sanitizer
- Best for travel: Touchland Power Mist
- Best 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
The 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
The 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
The 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
The 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 44 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 ones we tested that didn’t make the cut, but would still recommend if you’re unable to find anything else.
- Palmpalm Disposable Wipes: The aloe kept my hands from drying out while 70% alcohol met the criteria for an effective hand sanitizer. While the pouch is resealable, it only holds 10 wipes so it comes out to 37 cents a wipe — more than what wipes from Oars + Alps and Poo-Purri cost.
- 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. I tested the gel, spray, and the kids gel. They were all fine and come in a few different scents, but the spray was a little drying. A separate holder can be ordered to hold the travel size securely to straps. They’re available only when you join Grove Collaborative, so there was a barrier to entry.
- by Humankind Hand Sanitizer Spray: This meets guidelines for an effective hand sanitizer with 65% alcohol. The aluminum bottles are helpful if you’re trying to cut down on plastic usage and you can get refills easily, but the starting price at $15 for 3 2.4-fl. oz. bottles is high.
What we don't recommend
We don’t recommend the following hand sanitizers after testing them. All the formulas include at least 60% alcohol so they meet CDC guidelines for an effective sanitizer, but they didn’t meet our criteria. They dried out our hands, were not pleasant to use or smell, leaked during shipping, and in one unique case, given a warning by the FDA to remove misleading claims that its sanitizer could cure or prevent COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus.
- GuruNanda: The brand promoted misleading claims that its hand sanitizers prevented or cured the novel coronavirus. It was warned by the FDA and told to remove all misleading advertising and claims.
- Oh So Hand Sanitizer Spray: The addition of colloidal silver is unnecessary and potentially misleading as it’s not been shown to be effective in treating any disease, according to the FDA.
- SpectraSpray: I was only able to get about 12-15 sprays out of this though the brand claims enough product for 50+ sprays.
- American Provenance Hand Sanitizing Spray: This left a medicinal scent on my hands.
- Every Man Jack Hand Sanitizer Gel: My hands felt sticky and gritty after using, almost like they had some salt on them. It also took about 40 seconds to dry — the second-longest of all the hand sanitizers I tested.
- Invinio Disinfecting Wipes: Without any aloe in the formula, this left my hands feeling dry.
- Caforu Hand Sanitizer Gel: This took more than 45 seconds to dry on my hands (the longest of all the ones I tested) and was very drying. There’s a strong alcohol odor and each pump dispersed a huge amount of product.
- Truly Hand Sanitizer: The bottle just wouldn’t open — I had to use a knife to pry off the dropper top, but failed. When I finally punctured the bottle and was able to test the formula, it was watery and thin.
- Wildland Hand Sanitizer Spray: This is housed in a glass bottle that can be easily broken, and one of the samples arrived in pieces. The formula also left behind a very strong scent.
- Keeper Cleansing Hemp Hand Spray: There is no cap or lid to prevent accidental sprays of this hand sanitizer, which can waste product.
- Fleur & Bee Hand Sanitizer Mist: There was a really strong alcohol odor that lingered, and this was uncomfortable on small cuts on my hand.
- MedZone Hand Sanitizer: I liked the foaming action because you can see where the hand sanitizer reached, but this was ultimately too drying on hands.
- Poo-Pourri Hand Sanitizer Spray: My hands felt tingly afterward and the Unscented version smells too much like alcohol after it dried.
- Biossance Squalane Hand Sanitizer: The squeeze bottle was easy to use but difficult to control how much was distributed each time.
- Zoya Hand Sanitizer: The product contains a light green dye, which is unnecessary in a hand sanitizer.
- Neptune Hand Sanitizer Gel: This is sold in gallon-size jars at Costco (when it’s even available) so it’s not convenient for most people unless they’re willing to decant them into smaller bottles.
- Oars + Alps Antibacterial Hand Sanitizer Gel: This is was really sticky after it dried.
- Rude Cherry Blossom Hand Sanitizer Gel: The gel was drying on my hands and too watery, and it was hard to control the amount.
- Rude Peppermint Lemon Hand & Surface Sanitizer Spray: The spray was better than the brand’s gel but had a strong scent.
- New England Hemp Farm Pump: This left my hands sticky, and the bottle had leaked during transport.
- The Well Hand Sanitizer Spray: This also left hands sticky and it comes in a glass bottle, which isn’t convenient.
- Ballsy Plague Slayer Hand Sanitizer: The formula includes dyes, which aren’t necessary.
- Amyo Hand Sanitizer Spray: This came in a glass spray bottle, which isn’t convenient if you’re on the go. It’s marketed as being safe for jewelry but the ingredients list doesn’t look different than others we’ve tested.
How we test 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 test those that were more readily available for this update. After assessing availability, I tested 44 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.
We’ve seen more bottles of traditional hand sanitizer brands like Purell and Germ-X available online at places like Amazon and Target, but stock is still volatile and prices are often marked up. We don’t suggest buying them at higher prices if you can help it, but we understand that personal safety and hand hygiene are more important than ever.
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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Disclosure: Written and researched by the Insider Reviews team. We highlight products and services you might find interesting. If you buy them, we may get a small share of the revenue from the sale from our partners. We may receive products free of charge from manufacturers to test. This does not drive our decision as to whether or not a product is featured or recommended. We operate independently from our advertising team. We welcome your feedback. Email us at [email protected]
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