Washing hands with soap and clean water for at least 20 seconds is the best way for children to get rid of germs, including
COVID-19. If soap and water are not available, they can use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. However, swallowing just a tiny amount of hand sanitizer can cause poisoning in children.
The American Academy of Pediatrics urges parents to keep hand sanitizers out of children's reach. Don't forget about travel-size bottles of sanitizer in purses, diaper bags, backpacks and cars. Parents and caregivers also should supervise children ages 5 and younger when they use hand sanitizer.
Types of alcohol in hand sanitizers
Many hand sanitizers are made with alcohol or rubbing alcohol (ethanol, ethyl alcohol, or isopropanol, isopropyl alcohol). Alcohol poisoning symptoms include sleepiness, low blood sugar, seizures and coma, and it can be fatal.
Children and adults also have been poisoned after using hand sanitizer that contained methanol (also called wood alcohol, methyl alcohol, or methylated spirits). The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued recalls for products containing methanol, which is toxic if swallowed or after repeated use on skin. It can cause problems ranging from nausea and headaches to blindness, nervous system damage or death. An FDA import alert also warns about products found to contain methanol and/or 1-propanol, another form of alcohol that should not be used in hand sanitizers.
Hand sanitizer poisonings during the COVID-19 pandemic
Since families began buying more hand sanitizer during the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Poison Data System has been getting many more reports of unintentional exposures in children. Many are for children ages 5 years and younger.
Health experts recommend using hand sanitizer that is 60% to 95% alcohol to kill the virus that causes COVID-19. Drinking alcohol typically has 5% to 40% alcohol.
Check the label
FDA began letting companies that do not normally produce hand sanitizer make and sell it during the pandemic. Before buying or using hand sanitizer, make sure it has a label that lists the ingredients, warnings and precautions. In addition, it's a good idea to check the do-not-use list at
To reduce the risk of injury from children drinking hand sanitizers, producers should add ingredients to make them taste bitter. This important step helps prevent children from eating the product. However, the FDA has been alerted that some young people have tried drinking hand sanitizers from distilleries that have not taken the step to make them taste bad.
To help make sure the sanitizer's taste will not appeal to children, look for the word "denatured" on the bottle. You can also check for bitter ingredients such as denatonium benzoate (Bitrex); sucrose octaacetate; or butanol (also called tert-butyl alcohol).
Be especially careful with hand sanitizers made with isopropyl alcohol (isopropanol) around children. These can be more toxic than those made with ethanol or ethyl alcohol.
Is homemade hand sanitizer a good idea?
Make-your-own hand sanitizer recipes, widely available on the internet, may not be the best option for families. The FDA warns that if made incorrectly, hand sanitizer may not work. There have also been reports of skin burns from homemade hand sanitizer.
How to dispose of recalled hand sanitizers
Do not flush or pour recalled hand sanitizers down the drain. These products should be disposed of in hazardous waste containers, if possible. If unsure, check with your local waste management and recycling center.
When to call 911
Call 911 right away if your child has collapsed, is having a seizure, is having a hard time breathing, or if they can't wake up after using or swallowing hand sanitizer products.
Talk with your pediatrician
If you're concerned about poisoning risk in your child, talk with your pediatrician. Your regional Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit (PEHSU) have staff who can also talk with parents about concerns over hand sanitizer safety.