Hand Sanitizer

While a child who licks a tiny amount of hand sanitizer off of his or her hands is unlikely to become sick, a child ingesting any more than a taste of hand sanitizer could be at risk for alcohol poisoning.

14,919 Exposures*

Jan. 1 to Aug. 31, 2015

Every year poison control centers manage several thousand calls related to children ingesting hand sanitizer.

Many hand sanitizers come in brightly colored bottles, can be laced with glitter, and smell like food or candy. This type of packaging makes them very tempting to young children. While a child who licks a tiny amount of hand sanitizer off of his or her hands is unlikely to become sick, a child ingesting any more than a taste of hand sanitizer could be at risk for alcohol poisoning. This is because the amount of alcohol in hand sanitizer ranges from 40% to 95%. Most hand sanitizer products contain over 60% ethyl alcohol, a stronger alcohol concentration than most hard liquors. By comparison, wine and beer contain about 10-15% and 5-10% alcohol, respectively. Alcohol poisoning can cause confusion, vomiting and drowsiness, and in severe cases, respiratory arrest and death.

Special note about this topic:  There is no doubt among toxicologists that the ingestion of alcohol-based hand sanitizers by children can pose a serious threat of alcohol poisoning. The American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC) can readily verify from the National Poison Data System (NPDS) database that poison centers have managed over 17,000 hand sanitizer exposure cases in children under 12 years old each year since 2011.

As with any surveillance effort, some of the increase seen in exposures to these products over the past several years may be due to better case reporting engendered by greater awareness, media recognition, and more effective coding efforts, including the addition of new codes for hand sanitizers in 2010.

Tips to prevent potentially harmful exposure to hand sanitizer:

  • Hand sanitizers should be kept well out of reach of children at all times, and used only with adult supervision.
  • When using hand sanitizer on yourself or others, apply a dime-sized amount to dry hands and rub hands together until completely dry.
  • If you suspect your child has ingested hand sanitizer, call Poison Help at 1-800-222-1222 immediately. Do not wait for symptoms to develop.

For more information, call your local poison center at 1-800-222-1222. Poison centers are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, every day of the year for poisoning emergencies and for informational calls, too.

*The term "exposure" means someone has had contact with the substance in some way; for example, ingested, inhaled, absorbed by the skin or eyes, etc. Not all exposures are poisonings or overdoses.

Information from poison centers on this topic:

Other relevant resources:

Suggestions for this page?  Please email outreach@aapcc.org.

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