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How does hand sanitizer work?

Hand sanitizers provide a convenient and effective way to clean your hands if soap and water aren’t available and your hands aren’t covered in visible dirt or grease. According to a 2019 ruling by the FDA, a product can be marketed as a hand sanitizer if it contains ethyl alcohol (also called ethanol), isopropyl alcohol (isopropanol) or benzalkonium chloride as the active ingredient.

The FDA hasn’t made a decision on whether to categorize those three ingredients as “generally recognized as safe” because the agency doesn’t think there is enough research to say. But they’re also not pulling the products from shelves. Ingredients other than those three have shown little to no evidence of being effective at killing germs and have not won the FDA’s approval.