Sanitize vs. Sterilize: Why Is It Important To Know The Difference?

Sanitize vs. Sterilize: Why Is It Important To Know The Difference?

When you are on a mission to kill germs and avoid getting sick, hand sanitizer is one of the most powerful weapons in your arsenal. But what exactly does hand sanitizer do, especially compared to other germ killers like disinfectants, cleaners, and sterilants? 

What is hand sanitizer?

Hand sanitizer contains a high amount of either isopropyl or ethyl alcohol (not the kind you would want to drink). Both of these types of alcohol are effective for killing germs when a high enough concentration is used. 

For a hand sanitizer to work well, it needs to contain at least 60% alcohol, but you’ll find hand sanitizer formulas that are made of up to 95% alcohol. Any higher than this would cause evaporation, making the hand sanitizer less powerful since it would evaporate before it could take effect. 

The Origins of Sanitizing

Time to get technical. What does it mean to “sanitize” something? We hope you’re in the mood for a history lesson, because we’re going to start from the very beginning with the origin of the word. 

“Sanitize” is derived from the Latin word sanus, which means “healthy.” This Latin word is also the source of the word “sanity,” which originally referred to a person’s overall health before its meaning shifted to the modern use today. 

Around the 1800s a few centuries after the word “sanity” first showed up in the English language, the word “sanitize” was first used in the sense of “making something clean.” It wasn’t until later that the word needed to be further separated from other similar terms like “sterilize” and “disinfect.” 

As medical science continued to develop, these words took on more specific meanings and could not be switched out with each other to indicate the same levels of cleanliness. Now, in the 21st century, sanitizers, disinfectants, sterilants and other cleaning supplies can be found in stores, restaurants, hospitals, and homes, all used for different purposes. 

So, what’s the difference in sanitizing versus sterilizing?

Sanitizing a surface, including your hands, means reducing the number of germs present. 

This doesn’t mean that when you sanitize a surface you are killing all germs present. Instead, sanitizing reduces the amount of germs on a surface to a safer level. 

Sterilizing, on the other hand, is much more intense – it kills any living organisms on a surface. Once a surface is sterilized, any bacteria, fungi, viruses or other microorganisms that were once there are completely annihilated. 

Think of sanitizer as a germ-fighting grenade and sterilant as an anti-germ nuclear bomb. One will pack a major punch against germs and is more than enough to protect your hands, while the other is a far more heavy-duty measure that is best saved for germ-breeding grounds like public bathrooms and hospitals.

Can hand sanitizer sterilize your hands?

Now that you know the difference between sanitizing and sterilizing, you might be wondering: “Can I use hand sanitizer to sterilize my hands?” 

Unfortunately, the answer is no. Hand sanitizer just doesn’t nuke those germs quite like a sterilant does.

However, in your day-to-day life, hand sanitizer is good enough to reduce your risk of getting sick – you don’t need to use sterilants on your hands unless your job requires completely sterile hands!

Germs are all over the place. It’s one of those facts of life that everyone has to accept eventually. But don’t let this reality fill you with anxiety or make you paranoid. The presence of germs shouldn’t get you down or make you afraid to live your life. You don’t need sterilant after a run to the grocery store -- we promise. 

How To Get the Most From Your Hand Sanitizer

Hand sanitizer is a powerful defense against germs, but it has limitations. Generally speaking, it’s smart to favor hand washing over hand sanitizer when soap and running water are available. 

However, in the times when you can’t get to a sink to clean your hands, hand sanitizer is a perfect second option.

Many of the big potential pitfalls of hand sanitizer can be avoided by using it the right way. The biggest mistake people make is not applying enough hand sanitizer for it to be effective, with the second biggest being that they use expired hand sanitizer that has lost its effectiveness over time. 

Using a good amount of high-quality hand sanitizer that has not reached its expiration date maximizes your protection against germs. 

When you spray or squeeze out that hand sanitizer, make sure to cover the entirety of both of your hands, getting them completely wet before you start rubbing the sanitizer in. You want your hands to be saturated, but the sanitizer doesn’t need to be dripping off of them. Next, gently rub your hands together to make sure that sanitizer really covers your hands -- it can’t get rid of germs if it never comes into contact with them!

Get to Sanitizing!

So, what are you waiting for? Get to sanitizing! The marketplace is a good place to start. 

Our spray sanitizer is made of 80% alcohol, making it effective for both your hands and non-porous surfaces. Plus, with sizes as small as just a couple ounces, your can stash our sanitizer spray where you know you’ll need it the most -- backpacks, purses, desk drawers, and even your coat pocket!

Because hand sanitizer can expire over time, we’ve set up a subscription system that ships new bottles to your door, guaranteeing you’ll have more on the way before you start running out. No need to hoard here! In a time when you’re more likely than ever to need some powerful hand sanitizer several times a day, our mission is to make this basic hygiene essential as affordable and accessible as possible. 

So, especially as winter (and flu season) creeps closer, practice diligent hand washing, mask wearing, and, of course, hand sanitizing to significantly reduce your chances of getting sick and lower the risk of passing sickness to others.

Hand sanitizer may not sterilize your hands, but it gets the job done to get rid of germs and decrease your risk of getting sick. Most people don’t need to use a sterilant on their hands on a daily basis, and unless you’re a doctor, you are just fine sticking with hand sanitizer. Besides, basic surgery prep is really just five minutes of intense hand-washing anyway, so if you’re looking for the opportunity to hold up your hands and say “I’m sterile,” your warm water and soap is waiting for you to scrub up!


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