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What makes a good hand disinfectant?

DIN-EN 1500? DIN-EN 14476? Efficacy against enveloped viruses? We take a look at the contents, explain the European testing standards and shed light on the efficacy spectra.

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Good hand hygiene protects us particularly during the pandemic. Those who have a special need for hygiene or who do not have the opportunity to wash their hands thoroughly can also use hand disinfectants. In the health sector, disinfecting one’s hands several times a day is an integral part of everyday compliance. But what makes a good hand disinfectant? We explain jarring foreign wordings like "efficacy against enveloped viruses" and decode testing and requirement standards.

Ingredients and DIN-EN standards

Although there are several compositions of active ingredients that can be considered for a hand disinfectant, effectiveness cannot be proven solely on the basis of ingredients or their formulation1. The basis for a good and effective hand disinfectant is its declared range of efficacy, which is achieved by the specified test requirements according to the DIN-EN standards.

To determine the efficacy of disinfectants, there are defined test procedures of the European Committee for Standardization (CEN) that apply to all European countries. In Germany, these standards are published as DIN-EN. DIN-EN 1500 and DIN-EN 14476 are important for hand disinfection and virus testing. They define the requirements that a product must meet under practical conditions of use and thus determine the spectrum of efficacy.

The confusing world of efficacy

In the case of virus-effective hand disinfectants, there are three interesting categories of efficacy for us to consider: efficacy against enveloped viruses, limited spectrum virucidal efficacy, and virucidal activity.

To explain the differences, let's take a little detour into microbiology:

In general, a distinction can be made between so-called enveloped or non-enveloped viruses. Instinctively, one would think that enveloped viruses are protected by their envelope and more difficult to destroy. In fact, it is the other way round: the lipid membrane surrounding enveloped viruses is sensitive and can be destroyed by alcohols such as ethanol or 2-propanol. When the membrane is destroyed, the virus is immediately inactive, even if the inside of the virus, the virus capsule (also called capsid), remains intact. Unenveloped viruses are thus a tough nut with higher resistance to chemical substances.

Knowing this, let's take a closer look at the efficiencies:

  • If a hand disinfectant is effective against enveloped viruses, it offers protection against enveloped viruses, such as the coronaviruses of the current pandemic.
  • To additionally kill non-enveloped viruses, however, the "virucidal" spectrum of efficacy is necessary.
  • Adenoviruses as well as some other non-enveloped viruses are an exception to non-enveloped viruses. They are easier to deactivate and can therefore also be killed with the "limited virucidal" spectrum of efficacy.

If a disinfectant has an approval according to these efficacy spectra, it can also be assumed that it is marked on the product. Caution: to inactivate coronaviruses, at least the "efficacy against enveloped viruses" is required. For many disinfectants, this standard is not proven, so they may be less effective. When choosing your hand disinfectant, make sure that the label bears a corresponding note.2

Watch out for the decimals

If the exact names of the standards and declarations have slipped one's mind, it also helps to look at other indications of efficacy on the product labels. A product that eliminates 99.9% of the transient skin flora (bacteria, fungi and viruses that can temporarily settle on the skin) seems very effective at first glance. However, the test criteria according to DIN-EN 1500 and EN 14476 are only reached at 99.99%. With the enormous number of viruses and bacteria we have on our hands, this second decimal makes a lot of difference. So, pay attention to the second 9 after the decimal point!

And what about our skin?

A good hand disinfectant has to have a lot going for it. But does this also cover skin compatibility? Alcohol as an ingredient, for example, tends to be associated with a strong smell, dry hands and an unpleasant burning sensation on contact with minor injuries. Medical personnel in particular depend on skin-compatible hand disinfectants. They were already struggling with occupational skin diseases before the pandemic4. In addition, damaged skin cannot be sufficiently disinfected due to its rough surface, which increases the risk of infection and decreases compliance. Skin-care ingredients are therefore a factor that should not be underestimated.

Sterillium® products meet these criteria - a conclusion

- tested according to DIN-EN 1500 and EN 14476
- meet the efficacy requirements for efficacy against enveloped viruses, in some cases even with "limited spectrum virucidal activity"
- reduce transient skin flora by over 99.99% within 30 seconds
- rely on refatting ingredients such as glycerol and tetradecanol, which help to maintain the skin's elasticity5

1Robert Koch-Institut (RKI). Empfehlung der Kommission für Krankenhaushygiene und Infektionsprävention (KRINKO). Last retrieved 22.04.2021.
RobertKoch-Institut (RKI). Epidemiologisches Bulletin 19/20. Last retrieved 22.04.2021.
Bundesanstalt für Arbeitsschutz und Arbeitsmedizin (BAuA).Allgemeinverfügung zur Zulassung von Biozidprodukten zur hygienischen Händedesinfektion. Last retrieved 22.04.2021.
Kampf G., Löffler H., Prevention of irritant contact dermatitis among health care workers by using evidence-based hand hygiene practices: a review., Ind Health. 2007 Oct;45(5):645-52.
RCTS, Reece.B: RCTS’ Study No. 3295 (2014).

Use disinfectants safely. Always read label and product information before use.

HWG-Pflichttexte” for our Sterillium® range in English and German, also below in the footer.

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