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The 10 Very Best Hand Sanitizers

Photo-Illustration: The Strategist; Photos: Retailers

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While the CDC maintains that the best way to prevent the spread of disease and decrease the risk of getting sick is by washing your hands with soap and water, the COVID-19 pandemic brought with it a resurgence in the hand sanitizer landscape. Not only is it convenient to use, it is undeniably better than nothing in cases where soap and water aren’t readily available. And with so many people more concerned about the spread of germs than they may have been before COVID, there are more hand sanitizer options than ever.

“At this point, we are beyond the great hand sanitizer shortages, but there are still people making it everywhere, and it’s become a new market,” explains Dr. Ellie Erickson, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the Duke University School of Medicine.

From an expert medical perspective, there’s really only one thing that matters in a hand sanitizer: the presence of an FDA-approved antiseptic (more on that, below). Beyond that, which one is best is really a matter of personal preference. And with so many brands and formats available — and so many newcomers joining stalwarts like Purell on store shelves — both Dr. Erickson and board-certified dermatologist Dr. Loretta Ciraldo noted the importance of trial and error to find the hand sanitizer that works best for you.

To help you get started, I consulted medical experts like Erickson and Ciraldo, as well as aestheticians and cosmetic chemists, to learn more about the ingredient and sensory considerations that set different hand sanitizers apart, and asked them to recommend their favorites. I am also an aesthetician and have tested many of the options I heard about to account for scent and hand feel.

Echoing CDC guidance, all of the experts I spoke to emphasized that while hand sanitizer is an important tool to help prevent the spread of germs, washing your hands with soap and water is always your best bet, if possible. “Soap and water will remove certain germs that hand sanitizer cannot,” explains Ciraldo. Adds Erickson, “This is especially true of diarrheal illnesses, including rotavirus and norovirus, so hand washing is always preferred after diaper changes and bathroom breaks.”

With that said, when shopping for hand sanitizer to keep in your bag, display at your desk, or stash in your car or carry-on for when you’re on the go, the expert-vetted (and FDA-approved) options, below, are the best of the best.

What we’re looking for

Alcohol content

In the U.S., all hand sanitizers are over-the-counter drugs regulated by the FDA, which also approves the ingredients available for use in hand sanitizer products. The CDC, meanwhile, is responsible for developing science-backed recommendations about hygiene to prevent the spread of disease. Notably, specific CDC guidance related to COVID-19 actually excludes some otherwise FDA-approved hand sanitizer products.

While no antiseptic drugs, including hand sanitizer, are FDA approved to prevent the spread of COVID-19, hand sanitizer with 60 to 95 percent alcohol has proved the most effective at killing germs — including SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. The CDC recommends using hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent ethyl alcohol or isopropyl alcohol when washing with soap and water is not possible.

According to Dr. Sophia Yapalater, an internal medicine resident at the University of Pennsylvania, alcohol destroys bacterial or viral membranes by unraveling the proteins and fats that make up those membranes. So while there is evidence that other active ingredients are effective against a wide variety of germs — most notably benzalkonium chloride, which is FDA-approved for use in hand sanitizer generally, but not yet proven to kill all coronaviruses — alcohol remains the gold standard. And while it is true that alcohol-free hand sanitizers may be FDA-approved, and may be gentler and less irritating for children and those with sensitive skin, they are not part of the official CDC guidance for COVID-19 or typically recommended by our experts. (For this reason, Erickson advises paying close attention to ingredients and recalls related to hand sanitizer that are listed on the FDA website.)

Other ingredients

In addition to the presence of alcohol or, in rare instances, a different FDA-approved antiseptic, we looked for hand sanitizers that have moisturizing and skin-soothing ingredients, as well as various scent options. Cosmetic chemist Esther Olu advises looking for humectants, like glycerin and aloe vera, because they will “bind water to the skin” and counteract dryness caused by the high alcohol content. Emollients, like plant oils and esters that soften and soothe skin, are less common to see in a hand sanitizer but also good to look for, according to Olu.


There are hand sanitizer options to fit every preference or situation, from the type itself — with gels, liquids, sprays, mists, and wipes being the most common — to the size and refill options. As the best hand sanitizer varies depending on your needs, we’ve selected the best in a wide range of categories. Our experts confirmed that format does not necessarily make a difference in a hand sanitizer’s effectiveness, but can drastically affect how much you want to use it. It’s also important to note that while many brands have refills available, which can be more sustainable and save you money on cost per ounce, the FDA’s COVID-19 guidance does not recommend refilling hand sanitizer of any kind due to the potential for contamination or reduced efficacy.

Hand feel, scent, and overall experience

The most subjective elements of a given hand sanitizer are also some of the most important to the actual experience of using it: how it feels on your hands and how it smells. Says Olu, “Some hand sanitizer formats, such as foam or gels, can potentially leave an undesirable sticky residue or take a long time to dry,” making them inconvenient or unpleasant to use. Yapalater even pointed to two studies that found the sensory attributes of a sanitizer impacted how willing people were to use it. All of the sanitizers that made the cut for this list were recommended by our experts as “non-sticky” and “not gross-feeling,” or tested by us and found to meet a minimum hand-feel standard. We also paid close attention to scent, another important consideration. If opting for fragrance, most brands stick to citrus and floral scents, which can be particularly good at neutralizing the smell of alcohol. Below, we’ve recommended a variety of both fragrance-free and scented hand sanitizers.


For each hand sanitizer listed below, we calculated the approximate price per ounce to assign a dollar sign value, with $ denoting a cost of under $2 per ounce (or single wipe); $$ denoting a cost of under $5 per ounce; and $$$ denoting a cost of $5 or more per ounce. For products offered in multiple sizes, we based our math on the most widely available or popular size. (These calculations do not take into account multi-packs, which may lower the overall price per ounce.)

Best overall hand sanitizer

Formats: Gel, foaming, wipes | Alcohol content: 70 percent | Other ingredients: Aloe, vitamin B3, vitamin E, depending on which version you buy | Scents: Variety including unscented | Price: $

Often synonymous with “hand sanitizer” itself, Purell was the top recommendation among our experts. Classic, recognizable, and available in every format, from bulk jugs to individually wrapped wipes, fans of the brand note they feel confident about Purell’s quality and effectiveness. Yapalater prefers Purell for frequent application, like when she’s entering and exiting hospital rooms, because multiple layers don’t become too sticky, “even if sanitized, hands don’t feel clean if they are sticky,” she explains. Olu also named Purell as her preferred hand sanitizer since it is typically the first one she sees in stores.

For another no-frills, affordable option, Erickson likes Germ-X because its scent is less alcohol-forward, though it is also a bit stickier compared to Purell.

Best moisturizing hand sanitizer

Format: Gel | Alcohol content: 61 percent | Other ingredients: Vitamin E, glycerin, soy, lecithin | Scents: Fragrance-free, Lavender & Chamomile, Shea Butter & Vanilla | Price: $

Ciraldo likes this gel sanitizer, which features soothing and moisturizing ingredients like vitamin E, soy, glycerin, and skin-benefiting oils such as lecithin. It can moisturize for up to eight hours, making it a particularly excellent choice for anyone with dry or cracked hands. It also meets Ciraldo’s standard of having an “easy user experience” — an extremely important factor in finding a hand sanitizer you’ll actually use consistently.

Best hand sanitizer spray

Format: Spray | Alcohol content: 70 percent | Other ingredients: Witch hazel, glycerin, pure fragrance oil | Scents: Four scents | Price: $$

This non-drying spray comes from L.A.-based Rx Los Angeles, a sister-owned-and-operated small business known for its in-house fragrances. Aesthetician Lara Kaiser notes that the formula is packed with glycerin, a powerful humectant, and witch hazel, for added astringent properties. Olu also highlighted glycerin as a very effective humectant. The spray is 100 percent vegan and fans enjoy the four unique and perfumy scents — Lavender Oak, White Tea, Fresh Fig, and Bora Bora — that are subtle yet powerful enough to counteract the alcohol smell. In my testing, I found that while the initial whiff is very alcohol-forward, the fragrances do a great job of quickly masking it, which personally felt like a fine trade-off for the 70 percent alcohol content. The scents do linger on your hands, though, which may be less preferable in some scenarios, such as eating or working with patients.

Best hand sanitizer mist

Format: Spray | Alcohol content: 70 percent | Other ingredients: Aloe, radish root, glycerin, lemon essential oil | Scents: 14 scents | Price: $$$

Many of our experts mentioned Touchland as an everyday, slightly fancier option. Kaiser calls it “high-tech sanitizing” for its aesthetically pleasing package and formula that, in addition to 70 percent ethyl alcohol, contains aloe and glycerin for moisturizing and hydration, and radish root for additional antimicrobial protection. Both Ciraldo and Addy Bello, the registered nurse and content creator behind @skincareinscrubs, love the pleasant scents — there are 14 options including mint, watermelon, and vanilla — and fine mist texture. Bello notes that unlike gel sanitizers, the mist doesn’t leave behind any tacky film or dry out her cuticles. And if you’re looking for a multitasker, the “rejuvenating” Glow Mist edition contains two proprietary botanically derived anti-aging ingredients that the brand says will boost collagen production and detoxify your skin. Touchland makes a point of not offering refills, noting the risk of cross-contamination.

Best pocket-size hand sanitizer

Format: Spray | Alcohol content: 70 percent alcohol | Other ingredients: Aloe, jojoba, argan oil, rosa canina oil, coconut oil | Scents: Six scents | Price: $$$

These sleek, slender sprays are about the size of a credit card, making them the most convenient option for pockets, small purses, and travel. Kaiser praises the “six grown-up botanical scents” — eucalyptus, lemon, vetiver, bergamot, lavendula, and spice — all of which are refillable. Specifically formulated to protect, moisturize, and repair skin, each one is fortified with aloe vera, jojoba, rosa canina, argan oil, and coconut oil, which Kaiser notes are useful to offset winter dryness. The unusual packaging may leave you wondering if it has enough force to dispense enough product, but I’ve found that it actually delivers the perfect amount of delicate mist directly into your palm, not the air. And while previously I might have thought a travel size is a travel size, I found this sanitizer to be notably convenient when I took it on a recent trip, as it comfortably fit everywhere — from pockets to plane seatbacks — for easy access. Actress Christine Chiu is also a fan, having named it one of the things she can’t live without and calling it “the most efficient hand sanitizer out there because it’s tiny, has a chic design, and does the job.”

Best hand sanitizer wipes

Format: Wipes | Alcohol content: 65 percent | Other ingredients: Aloe, glycerin | Scents: Unscented, grapefruit, lavender | Price: $

These fragrance-free wipes from Jessica Alba’s mom- and baby-focused brand The Honest Company are designed to be gentle and safe for people with sensitive skin, including those dealing with eczema. The addition of aloe and glycerin in particular work to soothe your skin. I appreciated the secure plastic lock top on the package, to ensure the wipes don’t dry out before you get to use them and make it easier to pull out one at a time. (These small details also make these wipes a favorite among parents with small children.) If you aren’t looking for a fragrance-free hand sanitizer, the wipes are also available in two scents — grapefruit and lavender — and the Honest Company also offers its sanitizer in spray and gel formats with the same kid-friendly focus.

Best gel hand sanitizer

Format: Gel, spray | Alcohol Content: 62 percent | Other Ingredients: Marula oil, sweet almond oil, aloe, geranium oil | Scent: Orange and bergamot | Price: $$

Megababe is a Strat-favorite brand, so it’s not especially surprising that its hand sanitizer gel is a winner. Non-drying, pleasantly scented, and completely vegan since it uses plant-based alcohol, it also contains skin-benefiting oils like marula and sweet almond oil that leave your hands feeling soft and cleansed. Plus its crisp, refreshing citrus scent reminds me of freshly squeezed juice. But the real standout feature, to me, is how truly non-sticky and fast absorbing the gel is, even through multiple applications. Megababe’s hand sanitizer is also available in a spray version, though unfortunately the wipes version (which I loved even more than the gel) has been discontinued.

[Editors’ note: Megababe’s gel hand sanitizer is currently sold out, but you can sign up on the brand’s website to be notified of restocks. The spray version is currently available.]

Best multitasking hand sanitizer

Formats: Spray, pump bottle | Alcohol content: 65 percent | Other ingredients: Aloe, glycerin, essential oil blend | Price: $$

A favorite of celebrities and many of our experts, Jao’s Refresher hand sanitizer has even landed a spot in our Strat 100. As the brand’s tagline promotes, it’s “not just for hands” — aside from sanitizing, the spray can be used as aftershave, deodorant, or makeup-brush cleaner. Kaiser loves this “no frills classic” for a gym or beach bag, where you often might wind up needing such a multitasking product. In addition to 65 percent ethyl alcohol, it contains a blend of lavender, tea tree, eucalyptus, geranium, and sage essential oils, as well as chamomile and calendula to help prevent dryness.

Best hand sanitizer to keep at your desk

Format: Gel | Alcohol content: 75 percent | Other ingredients: Glycerin | Hand feel and scents: 2 | Price: $$

Despite the higher alcohol content in Nest’s sanitizing gel, the addition of glycerin and its gel format work to counteract dryness. Yapalater says she even finds the grapefruit and alcohol scent appealing because it reminds her of a Paloma, her favorite drink. And as one fan of the brand told us, this hand sanitizer earned a permanent spot on her desk because it smells nicer and is more inviting for guests and co-workers to use than a big pump of Purell. Plus, it looks nice enough to be left out without feeling like you’re in a doctor’s office.

Best alcohol-free hand sanitizer

Format: Spray, lotion | Alcohol content: N/A | Other ingredients: .13 percent benzalkonium chloride, colloidal oatmeal, aloe, glycerin | Scents: One scent | Price: $

None of our experts formally recommended any alcohol-free options. But as noted above, alcohol-free hand sanitizer products containing benzalkonium chloride as the active ingredient may be legally marketed if they meet certain FDA requirements for efficacy. Benzalkonium chloride has antimicrobial properties, though current data is limited and conflicting, particularly as it pertains to the prevention of COVID-19. To guarantee that you are using the most effective hand sanitizer possible, you should prioritize choosing one that is FDA approved and contains at least 60 percent alcohol. But if you are looking for an alcohol-free option that will offer at least some baseline protection against germs, Barrière’s alcohol-free spray and lotion are FDA-registered OTC antiseptics that are vegan- and cruelty-free. The lotion formula contains colloidal oatmeal to soothe, moisturize, and protect skin, and I loved being able to use it as a double-duty sanitizer and cream, particularly on parts of my body I wouldn’t want to slather with something drying, such as a forearm that touched a subway pole. Other popular alcohol-free hand sanitizers include Babyganics Alcohol-Free Foaming Hand Sanitizer and R&R Hand Sanitizing Cream.

Our experts

• Addy Bello (@skincareinscrubs), registered nurse and content creator
• Dr. Loretta Ciraldo, MD, FAAD, PA, board-certified dermatologist
• Dr. Ellie Erickson, MD FAAP, assistant professor of pediatrics, Duke University School of Medicine
• Lara Kaiser, licensed aesthetician
• Esther Olu, cosmetic chemist and licensed aesthetician
• Dr. Sophia Yapalater, MD, Internal Medicine resident, University of Pennsylvania

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The 10 Very Best Hand Sanitizers