Home » Articles » Details » Alcohol hand sanitizers do not protect against common cold

Rhinoviruses are the main cause of the “common cold” in humans. This virus is thought to spread via respiratory droplets through the air as someone sneezes or cough, by touching surfaces contaminated or previously touched by those with a “cold” and by person to person contact.

Authors of a study from the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia looked at the ability of frequent hand washing in the prevention rhinovirus infections and the common cold during a 9 week period in the fall of 2009.1 Half of subjects washed their hands with an alcohol based antiviral hand treatment (62% ethanol) every 3 hours while awake while the other hand did not. All subjects were checked weekly and during the time of any cold symptoms for the rhinovirus. Surprisingly, hand washing did not reduce the number of rhinovirus infections or the number of rhinovirus related common colds.

Others have compared ethanol or alcohol based hand sanitizers to soap and water. They found that simply washing with soap and water removed the rhinovirus from hands in nearly 90% of cases while alcohol hand sanitizers rarely removed the rhinovirus from hands.2


  1. Turner RB, Fuls JL, Rodgers ND, et al. A randomized trial of the efficacy of hand disinfection for prevention of rhinovirus infection. Clin Infect Dis 2012; 54: 1-5.
  2. Savfolainen-Kopra C, Korpela T, Simonen-Tikka ML, et al. Single treatment with ethanol hand rub is ineffective against human rhinovirus –  hand washing with soap and water removes the virus efficiently. J Med Virol 2012; 84: 543-547.

Top Articles