Does hand sanitizer really kill 99.9% of germs?

If you’ve bought hand sanitizer or disinfectant — including ours! — you’ve likely come across the claim that the product “kills 99.9% of germs.” Heck, we’ve got it right there on our homepage.

But you may also be wondering what it really means.

First, some background. There are a lot of germs out there. Some estimates suggest that you exchange 80 million germs during a kiss. Your cell phone, which you probably touch more than any other single object, harbours somewhere between 10 million and 200 million germs.

Not only that, but there’s a lot of different types of germs. There are more than 30,000 known species of bacteria and thousands more varieties of virus.

So, strictly speaking, no it wouldn’t be accurate to claim sanitizers are effective against 99% of all these.

That said, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Health Canada both regulate claims made by companies like ours. They have a threshold for effectiveness for hand sanitizer and other cleaning products which our products must meet in order to be approved.

The FDA tests products for their performance against 18 specific types of germs known to cause common illnesses. This is where the 99.9% figure comes from. That means if there are 1 million of these bacteria and/or viruses on your hands, there can’t be much more than 1,000 of them left after the sanitizer does its work; a safe figure.

While there are some exceptions, Health Canada- and FDA-approved sanitizers do a remarkable job of denaturing the proteins that encase these stubborn bacteria or viruses.

In other words, when it comes to most day-to-day germs, we’ve got you covered.

Have other questions about hand hygiene? Check out our previous blogs:

Our sanitizers are made from seven ingredients or fewer and are plant-based, eco-friendly, and Canadian-made. Browse our products to learn more.