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.
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. Even a small amount of alcohol can cause alcohol poisoning in children. Alcohol poisoning can cause confusion, vomiting and drowsiness, and in severe cases, respiratory arrest and death.
As of December 31, 2020, poison control centers have managed 24,802 exposure cases about hand sanitizer in children 12 years and younger.
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- Hand sanitizers should be kept 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 the Poison Help hotline at 1-800-222-1222 immediately. Do not wait for symptoms to develop.
For more information on preventing exposures to hand sanitizers, read this factsheet on hand sanitizers from the Upstate New York Poison Center.