Hand Sanitizers: How Toxic Are They?

Posted in:
Adults
Infants
Parents
Tweens / Teens
Alcohol
Cosmetics and personal care products

Recently, an email has circulated warning parents not to use hand sanitizers due to the danger they pose to children.  And while hand sanitizers can be dangerous if swallowed, actual symptoms from their misuse are extremely rare.  Most children who get a “taste” or a “lick” of hand sanitizer experience only mild symptoms, if any, and can be safely managed at home with the assistance of the Poison Center.  Hand sanitizer taste bad and can result in a burning sensation, so most children will not swallow an amount large enough to produce symptoms.  However, there are children who will drink anything, no matter how bad it tastes – and in those cases alcohol poisoning can result.  The same thing can occur if mouthwash or perfume is swallowed.  The bottom line is – hand sanitizers are beneficial for killing germs on hands and like all potentially poisonous items, they should be stored out of the reach of children and should be used according to the label.  Adults should monitor use of hand sanitizer by children to ensure that the proper amount is used and that hands wet with sanitizer are not put in the mouth.  Also, avoid buying large containers of sanitizer.  If a child only has access to a small bottle (30mL or less), they are less likely to ingest enough to result in harm.  If hand sanitizer is swallowed (or splashed in eyes), contact the Texas Poison Center Network at 1-800-222-1222 for advice.

Remember:

  • Apply a dime-sized amount to dry hands
  • Rub hands together until completely dry
  • Always monitor use by children

How much hand sanitizer would be dangerous?

A hand sanitizer pump dispenses approximately 2.5 mL of liquid.  If one pump of a 62% ethanol-containing hand sanitizer was ingested by an average 2 year old weighing 15 kg (33 lbs), a blood alcohol level of 17.3 mg/dL would be expected, considerably below a toxic level of 80-100 mg/dL. The same child would have to drink approximately 4-5 squirts of the sanitizer to produce toxic effects requiring medical attention. Clearly, more than a lick of hand sanitizer would be necessary to produce significant toxic effects.

Remember…If any amount is ingested, call the Texas Poison Center Network at 1-800-222-1222.