Efficacy of ethanol against viruses in hand disinfection

J Hosp Infect. 2018 Apr;98(4):331-338. doi: 10.1016/j.jhin.2017.08.025. Epub 2017 Sep 5.


Ethanol is used worldwide in healthcare facilities for hand rubbing. It has been reported to have a stronger and broader virucidal activity compared with propanols. The aim of this review was to describe the spectrum of virucidal activity of ethanol in solution or as commercially available products. A systematic search was conducted. Studies were selected when they contained original data on reduction of viral infectivity from suspension tests (49 studies) and contaminated hands (17 studies). Ethanol at 80% was highly effective against all 21 tested, enveloped viruses within 30 s. Murine norovirus and adenovirus type 5 are usually inactivated by ethanol between 70% and 90% in 30 s whereas poliovirus type 1 was often found to be too resistant except for ethanol at 95% (all test viruses of EN 14476). Ethanol at 80% is unlikely to be sufficiently effective against poliovirus, calicivirus (FCV), polyomavirus, hepatitis A virus (HAV) and foot-and-mouth disease virus (FMDV). The spectrum of virucidal activity of ethanol at 95%, however, covers the majority of clinically relevant viruses. Additional acids can substantially improve the virucidal activity of ethanol at lower concentrations against, e.g. poliovirus, FCV, polyomavirus and FMDV although selected viruses such as HAV may still be too resistant. The selection of a suitable virucidal hand rub should be based on the viruses most prevalent in a unit and on the user acceptability of the product under frequent-use conditions.

Keywords: Ethanol; Hand hygiene; Hand rub; Virucidal.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Infective Agents, Local / pharmacology*
  • Ethanol / pharmacology*
  • Hand Disinfection / methods*
  • Humans
  • Microbial Viability / drug effects*
  • Time Factors
  • Virus Inactivation / drug effects*
  • Viruses / drug effects*


  • Anti-Infective Agents, Local
  • Ethanol