Does Hand Sanitizer Stain? And Which Brands are Stain-Free?

Does Hand Sanitizer Stain? And Which Brands are Stain-Free?

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In the aftermath of the global health crisis, more and more consumers are purchasing hand sanitizer. But one unfortunate fact about many commercial hand sanitizers is that they can stain clothing.

But what are the specific ingredients in sanitizer that may cause clothes stains? Are there any hand sanitizers free of these ingredients? And is it possible to remove hand sanitizer stains from clothing?

In this article we’ll answer all of these questions and more as we highlight a common staining hand sanitizer ingredient, share an instructional video on how to remove hand sanitizer stains from clothing, and recommend a hand sanitizer brand likely to be stain-free.

Does Hand Sanitizer Stain?

Many commercial hand sanitizers contain a chemical compound called benzalkonium chloride. This compound has a bleaching effect and can irreversibly stain clothes.

Benzalkonium chloride is used as a surfactant in hand sanitizers, meaning it reduces the surface tension of a solution, making it easier to spread and improving the texture.

Benzalkonium chloride also goes by the trade name Zephiran, so we recommend that consumers watch out for both of these ingredients in hand sanitizer and avoid products containing them.

This ingredient has also been found to be toxic to human cells in a clinical trial published in the Toxicology in Vitro journal.

Many popular hand sanitizer brands (including Purell) also contain an ingredient listed as “fragrance” to improve the smell of the product.

The term “fragrance” is essentially unregulated in the U.S., and doesn’t describe to consumers what specific chemicals are used. Without this information, it’s impossible for consumers (or researchers like us) to determine whether the chemicals used as fragrance are safe and stain-free, which is why we recommend avoiding hand sanitizers containing fragrance.

We know from medical research that the long-term safety of fragrance is questionable, and that some compounds used in fragrance may be toxic.

We Tested Whether Hand Sanitizer Stains Clothes

As one of the authors of this article (Calloway), I wanted to test myself whether or not hand sanitizer would stain my clothes.

I sprayed three different types of hand sanitizer (two colored types of Touchland and one clear type from another brand) on a plain white T shirt, as shown below:

does hand sanitizer stain real user test 1

I sprayed each hand sanitizer around 10 times to test an extreme example of hand sanitizer use.

I then washed the T shirt with other white clothing and hung it to dry for a day. The final result is below:

does hand sanitizer stain real user test 2

As you can see, the hand sanitizer did not stain clothing after one wash, and it was a wash on a delicate cycle with mild, non-toxic detergent.

It's a bit difficult to see from the images above, but there were some stains in the "before" image.

Perhaps strongly colored hand sanitizer can stain, but from our test, it seems unlikely that most hand sanitizer can ruin clothing.

How to Remove Hand Sanitizer Stains From Clothing

One of the most popular YouTube videos on removing hand sanitizer stains comes from a channel called "Cleaning Solutions." The video is only two minutes long and shows how to remove hand sanitizer stains from cotton clothing using simple materials found in most homes.

While we cannot personally verify this method, the video is beautifully shot and may be a useful resource for users dealing with this issue:

Our Stain-Free Hand Sanitizer Pick

The stain-free and non-toxic hand sanitizer brand we recommend is Dr. Bronner's Organic Hand Sanitizer Spray.

The only four ingredients in Dr. Bronner’s Organic Hand Sanitizer are: 62% organic ethyl alcohol, water, organic glycerin, and organic peppermint oil.

There is no Zephiran or fragrance, which means the product shouldn't cause stains and should be healthier than commercial alternatives.

Dr. Bronner’s hand sanitizer also contains over 60% alcohol by volume, which meets the CDC recommendation for hand sanitizers. Products at or above this level of alcohol are more effective in fighting disease-causing germs.

Interested consumers can check out Dr. Bronner's Organic Hand Sanitizer Spray at this link to its Amazon product page.

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Hand sanitizer can stain, and many commercial hand sanitizers contain ingredients which may stain and may be harmful to health overall. We recommend that consumers avoid hand sanitizers containing benzalkonium chloride, Zephiran and fragrance.

While it appears possible to remove hand sanitizer stains using natural household ingredients, we recommend avoiding the issue altogether by choosing a non-toxic, stain-free hand sanitizer derived from botanical ingredients like Dr. Bronner's hand sanitizer.