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Foam versus Liquid Hand Sanitizer: A Guide to Understanding Their Differences

The global shutdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic prominently highlighted the need for proper hygiene practices. While soap and water are a tried-and-true method for hand hygiene, hand sanitizers play a key role in promoting cleanliness. Being able to compare the functions of different sanitizer types, namely foam versus liquid or gel, can help people stay hygienic and healthy.

As hands carry and spread a number of deadly viruses and pathogens, everyone must ensure they can practice hand hygiene at all times. After the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, hand sanitizer sales jumped roughly 600 percent due to its efficacy in fighting the virus.

Proper hand hygiene in the workplace keeps employees healthy and safe at work. By stocking hand sanitizer, companies can fight potentially dangerous bacteria and viruses. To protect their employees, workplace facilities must find the best hand sanitizer solution that works for them.

Using foaming hand sanitizers

Foaming hand sanitizer is a form of liquid disinfectant held in a container that infuses it with air as it leaves the dispenser. The result is an easy-to-lather sanitizer that is well suited to coat hands. Before utilizing foaming hand sanitizer in the workplace, it’s important to understand its strengths and weaknesses.

Advantages of foaming hand sanitizers

Gel, liquid, and foaming hand sanitizers all effectively kill germs. However, there are several notable advantages to foaming hand sanitizer:

  • Less product per pump

The pump dispenser in foaming hand sanitizer has a chamber that injects air into the disinfectant as it leaves the container. Because the sanitizer infuses with air, less is required to fully coat hands. While foaming hand sanitizer is often more expensive upfront, companies may find that using less product per pump is ultimately cost effective.

  • Adhesion to hands

The biggest hygiene-related benefit of foaming hand sanitizers lies in their ability to cling to hands. Unlike gel hand sanitizers, foam products do not drip. The infused air thickens the product, and the lack of drippage is important for successfully sanitizing hands and means less mess in the workplace.

  • Comfortable hand feel

A study on foam, liquid, and gel hand sanitizers found that in high doses, foam and gel hand sanitizers left a sticky, unclean feeling on the hands. But the ideal dose of 1.5 mL left hands clean and moisturized and the product well absorbed. Foam sanitizer combines a comfortable feel with the effectiveness of liquid and gel sanitizers, leading to higher hygiene compliance among workers.

Disadvantages of foaming hand sanitizers

While foaming hand sanitizers are an effective, easy way to disinfect hands, they may be less potent because of their alcohol content.

Currently, a large percentage of foaming hand sanitizers are alcohol-free. The active disinfecting ingredient is benzalkonium chloride, an antimicrobial agent. While benzalkonium chloride is effective against germs and boasts a long-term germ-killing ability, alcohol-based sanitizers are still considered the better solution for killing bacteria and viruses.

Furthermore, the term “alcohol-free” is broad and can refer to many different products. There are far more studies demonstrating the germ-killing abilities of alcohol-based sanitizer over alcohol-free sanitizer. Because of this, the CDC and FDA recommend using an alcohol-based sanitizer that contains a minimum of 60 percent ethanol.

Using liquid or gel hand sanitizers

With gel and liquid hand sanitizers, a person applies pure sanitizer to their hands, not an air-infused substance like that from a foaming hand sanitizer. Liquid and gel are more traditional forms of sanitizers and have several shared strengths and weaknesses between them.

Advantages of liquid or gel hand sanitizers

Gel and liquid hand sanitizers are fast acting and highly effective at killing germs, making them a strong option for health care and food workers. While it is a slightly messier product than foaming hand sanitizer, there are clear advantages to liquid and gel sanitizers:

  • Extended effectiveness

To be fully effective, a sanitizer should remain wet on the hands for at least fifteen seconds. This time allows the user to fully coat their hands with the product. Liquid and gel sanitizers take longer to dry than a foaming sanitizer. Therefore, users can cover their hands more thoroughly, increasing chances of protection against germs.

  • Portability

Because gel and liquid hand sanitizers do not require a special mechanism to pump air into the sanitizer, they are more portable than their foaming counterparts. Users can bring gel or liquid hand sanitizer with them to a variety of different sites. This allows them to clean their hands in places where soap and water—or even a stationary hand sanitizer dispenser—are not available.

Disadvantages of liquid or gel hand sanitizers

While liquid and gel hand sanitizers are a strong option for killing germs, there are some disadvantages that are often related to their alcohol content.

  • Flammable

As liquid and gel sanitizers typically have an alcohol content of above 60 percent, they are highly flammable. Isopropyl and ethyl alcohols ignite easily. After using gel or liquid alcohol-based hand sanitizer, a worker should avoid heat, sparks, and flames until their hands are completely dry.

  • Drying effect

While alcohol-based gel and liquid sanitizers are highly effective at killing germs, they can be very drying. Frequent use of this type of sanitizer can leave hands cracked and irritated. The cracks may enable germs to enter the skin and cause infection.

Using foaming versus liquid hand sanitizers

Foaming, liquid, and gel hand sanitizers are well suited to a variety of situations. Because all types of hand sanitizer are useful in their own right, it is important to understand the locations and facilities where each is most effective.

Foaming hand sanitizer

As foaming hand sanitizers are less messy than liquids or gels and have a comfortable hand feel, they are handy for several different facilities.

In schools and universities, foaming hand sanitizers are a reliable option. Both facilities cater to large numbers of people. Because of this, a cost-effective option is crucial. As a foam sanitizer dispenser administers doses economically with each pump, it is more budget friendly for schools.

In addition, a safe and low-mess option is important for environments with young children. As foaming sanitizers stick to hands better than liquid or gel sanitizers, schools don’t have to worry about drippage on the floor.

The same is true for commercial applications. Foaming hand sanitizer will clean customer and employee hands without damaging the facility’s floor or walls. They also don’t leave a sticky residue, meaning that customers can comfortably shop with clean hands.

Liquid or gel hand sanitizer

A 2016 study on the difference in efficacy between gel and foaming hand sanitizers found that alcohol-based gel hand sanitizer was more efficient at killing E. coli on pigskins. Because of these results, the study recommended that health care facilities primarily use alcohol-based gel hand sanitizers to kill germs.

The CDC echoes this sentiment on hand sanitizer use. Because alcohol-based hand sanitizer gels are so efficient at killing germs, they are acceptable alternatives when soap and water are not available, especially in health care settings.

Health care workers must ensure they maintain proper hand hygiene to control the spread of germs. In a hospital, where germs, bacteria, and infectious substances are common, health care workers must consistently clean their hands to prevent the spread of disease. Gel and liquid hand sanitizers are strong enough to both kill germs and protect against infection.

Following best practices for hand sanitizer in the workplace

While washing hands with soap and water is the most effective way to kill germs, frequent use of hand sanitizer is also an important way to protect against bacteria and viruses in the workplace. In fact, employees who use hand sanitizer at least five times a day decrease their chances of getting sick by almost 70 percent. Regardless of the type of hand sanitizer used, implementing best hand sanitizer practices will help a workplace boost overall hygiene.

Proper application of hand sanitizer

Maintaining proper hygiene practices is crucial in the workplace. Eighty percent of germs that result in illness spread by hand. Germs in the workplace can lead to heightened absenteeism and lowered productivity. Because of this, it is important that employees know how to clean their hands with hand sanitizer.

Regardless of whether a workplace utilizes liquid, gel, or foaming hand sanitizer, the best practices for all are the same. The CDC recommends an alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing up to 95 percent alcohol because of its efficacy on a variety of germs. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers with at least 60 percent alcohol also kill germs outright instead of simply reducing growth.

When using any form of hand sanitizer, employees should:

  1. Apply one full pump to the palm of their hand. This will ensure that they have enough sanitizer to properly coat their hands without having any excess drip on the floor.
  • Rub the product all over the surface of the hands. Employees should continue to rub the hand sanitizer in until their hands are completely dry. This should take approximately twenty seconds.

This quick, simple process makes the workplace a healthier environment for all employees.

Ideal placement of hand sanitizer

To promote the widespread use of hand sanitizer, workplaces should position dispensers in visible, high-traffic areas. This ensures that the hand sanitizer is easily accessible to all employees. Some ideal places to position hand sanitizer include:

  • Doorways: As one of the most frequently touched places in a workplace, doorknobs carry a high number of germs. In fact, a study found that a virus on a doorknob can infect between 40 and 60 percent of workers in a facility in just four hours. By placing hand sanitizer near doorways, workers can clean their hands immediately after touching a doorknob.
  • Break rooms: A commonly germ-filled spot in workplaces is the break room, where employees meet, relax, and eat. The break room is a busy, high-traffic place where workers might easily spread germs. This is particularly concerning because they may touch a contaminated surface immediately before consuming food. An alcohol-based gel or liquid sanitizer can properly clean employees’ hands before they eat.
  • Employee desks: Desks are where office workers spend most of their day. Their hands frequently come into contact with their keyboard, telephone, computer mouse, and the desk itself. By having hand sanitizer at their desk, workers can clean their hands before or after touching these high-contact objects. To limit mess in this smaller space, workers can rely on a foam dispenser to clean their hands at the desk.
  • Meeting rooms: Direct contact is inevitable in meeting rooms, where people often exchange handshakes and other forms of greeting. These customs can be more hygienic if hand sanitizer dispensers are available in the room for use before and after meetings.

Times to use hand sanitizer

Hand sanitizer is a strong option for employees when their hands are not visibly dirty or greasy. While hand sanitizers work well against germs, soap and water is a better choice to cut through visible grime.

Still, hands can carry a great number of germs even when they are not visibly dirty. In these situations, hand sanitizer is a great choice for workers, as it is fast acting and effective. In addition, unlike soap and water, liquid or gel hand sanitizer is convenient and portable. Workers can bring a dispenser with them in their bag, on their lunch hour, or on the go.

Finding hand sanitizer through Spruce Industries

In distinguishing foam versus liquid or gel hand sanitizers, it’s important to understand that all are strong options for companies looking to improve workplace hygiene practices. While liquid or gel alcohol-based sanitizers are perhaps the most effective at killing germs, foam hand sanitizers are a cost-efficient, mess-free option. Each type of hand sanitizer fits into many different workplace settings.

With Spruce Industries, companies can find the hand sanitizer that best suits their workplace. They can stock dispensers and portable sanitizers to help keep their employees and patrons safe and healthy. Boost workplace hygiene with hand sanitizer provided by Spruce Industries.

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