Safely Using Hand Sanitizer

We can help stop the spread of COVID-19 by washing our hands regularly with soap and water for 20 seconds – especially after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after coughing, sneezing, or blowing our nose. If soap and water are not available, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend using alcohol-based hand sanitizers containing at least 60% alcohol to help you avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others.

Rub the hand sanitizer all over your hands, making sure to get between your fingers and on the back of your hands. Do not wipe or rinse off the hand sanitizer before it is dry. Do not use hand sanitizer if your hands are visibly dirty or greasy; wash your hands with soap and water instead. If you use alcohol-based hand sanitizers, keep these safety tips in mind.

Hand Sanitizers Are Drugs

Hand sanitizers are regulated as over-the-counter (non-prescription) drugs by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. If you use alcohol-based hand sanitizers, read and follow the Drug Facts label, particularly the warnings section.

Store hand sanitizer out of the reach of pets and children, and kids should use it only with adult supervision. Call your doctor or the Poison Help Line at 1-800-222-1222 if you experience a serious reaction to hand sanitizer.

Keep Hand Sanitizer Out of Your Eyes

Be especially careful not to get hand sanitizer in your eyes because it can cause burning and damage the surface of the eye. Watch young children around dispensers containing hand sanitizer, which are often mounted at eye level and can splash.

If you get hand sanitizer in your eyes, rinse your eyes thoroughly with water as soon as possible, and call a health care provider or poison control center

Use Hand Sanitizer in a Well-Ventilated Area

If you are using hand sanitizer in a closed area, such as a car, open the windows to improve ventilation until the hand sanitizer is dry.

Supervise Children Using Hand Sanitizer

Do not drink hand sanitizer. This is particularly important for young children, especially toddlers, who may be attracted by the pleasant smell or brightly colored bottles of hand sanitizer. Drinking even a small amount of hand sanitizer can cause alcohol poisoning in children. (But there is no need to be concerned if your children eat with or lick their hands after using hand sanitizer.) 

During this coronavirus pandemic, poison control centers have had an increase in calls about accidental ingestion of hand sanitizer, so it is important that adults monitor young children’s use.

Beware of alcohol-based hand sanitizers that are packaged in containers that may appear as food or drinks, and of those that contain food flavors or fragrances. The FDA has discovered that some hand sanitizers are being packaged in children’s food pouches, water bottles, and adult beverage bottles, such as beer cans, and liquor and wine bottles.

We also found hand sanitizers that contain food flavors or fragrances, such as chocolate or raspberry. Eating or drinking these products can cause serious injury or death.

Do not allow pets to swallow hand sanitizer. If you think your pet has eaten something potentially dangerous, call your veterinarian or a pet poison control center right away.

Hand Sanitizer Is Flammable

Keep hand sanitizer away from heat and flames. When using hand sanitizer, rub your hands until they feel completely dry before performing activities that may involve heat, sparks, static electricity, or open flames.

Check FDA’s Do-Not-Use List

The FDA discovered serious safety concerns with some hand sanitizers during testing. This includes some hand sanitizers:

  • contaminated with potentially toxic types of alcohol
  • that do not contain enough active ingredient (ethyl alcohol or isopropyl alcohol)
  • with labels containing false, misleading, or unproven claims

Before you buy hand sanitizer or use hand sanitizer you have at home, check the FDA’s do-not-use list at www.fda.gov/handsanitizerlist. We update the list regularly as new information is released.

Health care professionals and patients are encouraged to report adverse events or side effects related to the use of these products to the FDA’s MedWatch Safety Information and Adverse Event Reporting program:

Don’t Make Your Own Hand Sanitizer

The FDA doesn’t recommend that consumers make their own hand sanitizer. If made incorrectly, hand sanitizer can be ineffective – or worse. For example, there have been reports of skin burns from homemade hand sanitizer. 

Also, adding alcohol to non-alcohol hand sanitizer is unlikely to result in an effective product. And using disinfectant sprays or wipes on your skin may cause skin and eye irritation. Disinfectant sprays and wipes are intended to clean surfaces, not people or animals.

Hand sanitizers are a convenient alternative when handwashing with soap and water isn’t possible. You can help protect yourself and your family from coronavirus with simple hygiene. For more information, visit: Q&A for Consumers: Hand Sanitizers and COVID-19. Test your knowledge about hand sanitizer by taking our hand sanitizer quiz.