Are alcohol based sanitisers safe?

Government regulated alcohol sanitisers that follow formulas set out by the World Health Organisation (WHO) are recommended for their proven effectiveness in killing and preventing the spread of harmful germs.

Alcohol hand sanitisers are safe when used according to the directions supplied. However, inappropriate use of alcohol hand sanitisers can cause adverse side-effects.

Will swallowing alcohol hand sanitisers cause poisoning or intoxication?


Swallowing a small amount of an ethanol-based sanitisers generally harmless. When swallowed in large quantities, it could cause intoxication with symptoms of slurred speech and dizziness. In younger children or animals, the symptoms of poisoning could be more severe.


To minimize the possibility of an alcohol sanitiser being ingested by animals or someone under your care, manufacturers of quality sanitiser products use denatured ethanol. Denaturing means the ethanol is treated with a substance called Bitrex, which gives the ethanol an extremely unpleasant, bitter taste. This in most cases causes a gagging reflex, and is effective to stop it being swallowed.


Is regular use of alcohol sanitisers harmful to the skin?


Two common concerns regarding alcohol sanitisers are the effects of regular use on the skin and the rate of alcohol absorption through the skin.


It is important to note that because alcohol evaporates within 30 seconds of application, it does not leave any alcohol on the skin. Additionally, pharmaceutical grade alcohol sanitisers that are correctly formulated with quality emollients and humectants, are designed to protect the skin layers from dehydration and de-fatting.


In addition, clinical studies show that the absorption of pharmaceutical grade ethanol sanitisers through the skin is insignificant and does not pose any safety risk. However, low grade sanitisers containing over 1% methanol (which is not approved as part of the WHO’s sanitiser formula), are very toxic in this regard.

If anyone is showing abnormal behaviour after swallowing alcohol sanitiser, contact the emergency services or your regional poison control centre immediately.

Are alcohol sanitisers flammable?


While alcohol is a flammable liquid, alcohol hand gels are unlikely to present a dangerous fire hazard, but precautions should still be taken when storing or handling any type of alcohol-based product.


It is only the vapour from alcohol sanitiser that is flammable when in direct contact with an open flame, very hot surface, or electrical sparks. It is extremely unlikely that a user following common sense precautions would be exposed to this danger through a normal dispenser.


Can hand sanitisers damage clothing?


Alcohol hand sanitisers are colourless gels that do not leave stains but could remove the dye from non-colourfast fabric causing discoloration. If you spill hand sanitiser on your clothing, blot it up as soon as possible.


Do hand sanitisers have a shelf life?


Alcohol sanitisers usually have a listed shelf life of 3 years. Alcohol, including ethanol, evaporates quickly when exposed to air. Although hand sanitiser containers protect alcohol from the air, they are not completely airtight. While hand sanitiser may still work after it’s expired, you should replace it once it has reached its expiry date, because it may be less effective.

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