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Can Getting Hand Sanitizer on Your Clothes Stain, or Possibly Damage Them?

Posted by Patricia Spencer on
Can Getting Hand Sanitizer on Your Clothes Stain, or Possibly Damage Them?


To most of us out there, hand sanitizer is considered an essential part of daily life.  Portable, non-greasy, and fast absorbing, it keeps our hands free of harmful germs without making a mess, or even requiring water in order to rinse away. 

Now, if you’re a daily hand sanitizer user, then you may have learned the hard way that once a dollop lands on your favorite pair of pants or sweater, a stain can occur.  So, what can be done to reverse the damage of hand sanitizer formula absorbing into your clothes, while using only nontoxic cleaning products like natural dish soap, etc.?  Let’s find out.

What is Hand Sanitizer Made From?

There are two types of hand sanitizers:

  • Alcohol-based: To be effective against germs, it needs to contain at least 60% alcohol (normally ethanol or rubbing alcohol, also known as Isopropyl alcohol).
  • Non-alcohol based: These foam up like soap and are more liquid than gel. Also, one of the ingredients is benzalkonium chloride, a germ-killer - more on that in a bit.

Although they have moderately unique things, both alcohol and non-alcohol hand sanitizers can cause stain-like bleaching damage.

What Fabrics Can Be Damaged by Hand Sanitizer?

Overall, most fabrics can be affected by the bleaching properties contained within hand sanitizer.  Depending on the color and type of fabric, the damage might be simpler to mask.

  • Light-colored material is better at concealing the paleness of the bleached spots.
  • Dark clothing and fabrics with a special finish are another matter, as any staining type on a plain dark material tends to be quite noticeable.
  • When a bleaching agent encounters the dye on the leather, it removes the dye, taking the leather back to its original color.
  • Suede is particularly susceptible to liquid damage.
  • Silks and chiffons are known for their delicate properties, and alcohol can strip the color out of these fragile materials in the identical manner it does for harder wearing fabrics.

Does Hand Sanitizer Stain Fabrics Totally?

Here’s the thing – hand sanitizer does stain clothing, but not in the traditional way.  Unlike, say, ketchup or mud, hand sanitizer doesn’t discolor the fibers, in a way in which the discoloration can be washed away.  Instead, once again, what it does is bleach the material that it lands on, thanks to one of its key ingredients, benzalkonium chloride.  This bleaching agent lightens materials, similarly to actual bleach, and once that occurs, there’s nothing that you can do to reverse it. 

Easy Step to Remover Hand Sanitizer Stains from Fabrics

As is often the case, the longer you let hand sanitizer sit on clothing, the more of a chance it has to do some serious damage.  So, the key isn’t removing the stain, but acting quickly to minimize its negative effects.

Step #1: Scrape It Away

The moment you notice hand sanitizer on your clothes, grab a dull object like a butter knife and scrape as much off of the surface of the garment as possible – after removing the garment, that is.  This will prevent more of the formula from absorbing into the fibers, to minimize the damage.

Step #2: A Cold Rinse Goes a Long Way

Now, run the garment under cold water after turning it inside-out, to push as much of the formula out of the clothes as possible.  Turning it inside-out is critical as otherwise, you’re using water to push the sanitizer deeper into the clothing.  Then, go ahead and place a dollop sustainable dish soap formula, such as Grab Green Liquid Dish Soap onto the hand sanitizer, and rub it in.  This can help break up the hand sanitizer formula to make it less concentrated as it rinses away.

Step #3: Get to the Laundry

From there, we recommend placing the clothing item in the laundry as soon as possible, to wash away the sanitizer completely, using natural cleaning products as much as you can.  It’s always best to go with organic laundry pods, like our 3 in 1 Laundry Detergent Pods, which are free of harsh ingredients, is considered the best organic laundry detergent for sensitive skin.  You can also use natural laundry powder if you prefer.  Once you’re done with your washing cycle, you can go ahead and switch over to your dryer (if your clothing/fabrics permit for doing so – check the tag/label first), throwing in some natural dryer sheets like Grab Green Classic Laundry Dryer Sheets or Stoneworks Dryer Sheets, or even Grab Green Dryer Balls to prevent cling.

Act Quickly to Minimize Damage

We cannot guarantee that your clothes will recover fully from a hand sanitizer mishap.  Luckily, the lighter the clothing, the less likely it is that the stain will be noticeable.  Either way, the sooner you act, the less of a bleaching effect your accident will end up having on your garments.  Follow the steps above, using natural home cleaning products as much as possible, like our eco-friendly laundry pods, to ensure that you’re working with gentle, non-bleaching ingredients rather than harsh chemicals.  And, of course, be aware of how you apply hand sanitizer the next time to avoid any more spills.

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