Ethanol – Chemical of the Month

What is Ethanol?

Ethanol also known as alcohol or ethyl alcohol, is a chemical compound that is known by its disinfectant properties and the psychoactive property when found in alcoholic drinks. Today we will focus on the disinfectant’s property and tell more about how it works and at which concentration.

How does ethanol work and what does the experts say?

Ethanol is used in medical wipes and hand sanitizer as an antiseptic effect. The way ethanol works is by killing microorganism by dissolving the cell wall and denaturing their proteins. Ethanol is known to be effective against most bacteria, fungi and viruses(1).

When ethanol is used in concentration ranges between 60 and 85 %, it is known to kill most of the viruses, bacteria, and fungi. And a study has shown that rubbing hands in 15 seconds with an 85% ethanol-based hand gel was found to have a broad spectrum of bactericidal activity, including the most common species causing hospital-acquired infections(2).

On some ingredient lists you will see the word “denatured alcohol” which is a grade of ethanol, that is made by adding denatonium benzoate and toxins such as pyridine, naphtha and methanol. These additives are added to ethanol to make the ethanol bitter or toxic if consumed, and thereby the products containing denatured alcohol will be unfit for drinking and it will be possible to avoid the tax burden(3).

AllergyCertifieds opinion

When using a hand sanitizer with high concentration of ethanol, the skin will become dry, which can lead to irritative skin and develop dry cracks. We recommend looking for a hand sanitizer that has a moisturizing base for example glycerin. That way you add some of the fat that the alcohol is going to remove from your hands.


  1. MCDONNELL1 G, RUSSELL D. Antiseptics and Disinfectants: Activity, Action, and Resistance. Clin Microbiol Rev. 1999:147-179.
  2. Kampf G, Hollingsworth A. Comprehensive bactericidal activity of an ethanol-based hand gel in 15 seconds. Ann Clin Microbiol Antimicrob. 2008;7:1-6. doi:10.1186/1476-0711-7-2
  3. Denatured Alcohol Not For Human Consumption.