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Is The Alcohol in Hand Sanitizer Dangerous or Harmful?

Updated on August 16, 2019
Schatzie Speaks profile image

Schatzie has bachelor's degrees in animal science and English. She has a master's in education and is a certified teacher.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, to be effective a hand sanitizer must contain at least 60% alcohol.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, to be effective a hand sanitizer must contain at least 60% alcohol. | Source

Alcohol in Hand Sanitizer

Is it possible to get drunk off of hand sanitizer? Well, yes and no.

No, if you use it as intended and only apply it externally to your hands. Yes, if you drink 6 12.7 oz bottles of it as an alcoholic patient in an Australian hospital did, leading to a near-lethal 0.271% blood alcohol content (and new and improved hospital safety measures).

However, whether you squirt it on your hands or down your throat, the use of hand sanitizer may make you at least appear drunk either way.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, to be effective, a hand sanitizer must contain at least 60% alcohol. Results of a study in which eleven individuals used a Purell sanitizing solution of 62% ethanol over the course of 3 days while abstaining from alcoholic beverages were found to test positive for alcoholic by-products in their urine. As far as this test was concerned, they had recently ingested alcohol.

The Likelihood of Appearing Drunk

Before we start throwing our stockpiles of Germ-X away, we must take into account the specifics of the study. Participants applied sanitizer every five minutes for ten hours straight three days in a row. Then again, this only adds up to 4 oz daily.

Not to mention, the product tested contained a mere 2% more alcohol than the minimum concentration found necessary for eliminating germs. There are several products on the market with a higher alcohol content (as well as a lower one, so always check labels, as these sanitizers are ineffective!).

Also, in certain situations, individuals may be applying sanitizer constantly, at times even more frequently than the study participants. Those working in the medical field, for instance, or those who handle food must routinely disinfect their hands. And for those who work in environments where they regularly undergo drug testing, the effects of hand sanitizer may prove troubling.

As for children, those under the age of 3 should never use sanitizing products with alcohol. One female infant whose umbilical cord stump was covered with ethanol-soaked bandages required hospitalization to combat the effects from the absorbed alcohol. And, because of the scrapes and bruises of childhood, sanitizing products should always be applied with caution even on older children. When the skin is compromised, so is its ability to protect against foreign contaminants of any kind, including alcohol.

Did you just apply sanitizer or drink alcohol? Well, when it comes to breathilizers, they can tell the difference.
Did you just apply sanitizer or drink alcohol? Well, when it comes to breathilizers, they can tell the difference. | Source

Alcohol In Your Urine Vs Your Breath

However, Rep. Vito Fossella chose the wrong scapegoat for what was in truth his bad judgment. When convicted of drunken driving charges, he claimed that the effects of Purell sanitizer manipulated his road-side sobriety test. However, in this case, science wasn't on his side.

An Australian analysis of twenty health care employees applying a sanitizing product 8% higher in alcohol than Purell, thirty times an hour showed only minimal elevations in their breath levels of ethanol. Not one tested above the legal drinking limit. And, these levels quickly returned to zero only minutes following application. Unlike urine analysis, breathalyzers are not capable of the same sanitizer-induced alcohol readings. In this case, Rep. Fossella was out of luck.

So, in conclusion, what do all of these results tell us? It appears that a product containing 62% alcohol (the equivalent of a 120 proof bottle of rum) may have undesirable effects if used repeatedly for hours each day. However, most individuals using it sparingly, and externally, should have nothing to fear. Those who use it more frequently and in a higher concentration, on the other hand, should keep this research in mind. And, if you exercise poor judgment and drive drunk behind the wheel, don't expect hand sanitizer to help bail you out.

Works Cited

1.“Patient gets drunk on sanitizer in Australian Hospital” The Telegraph.

2.“Hand sanitizer can lead to positive alcohol test” by Rachael Rettner. MSNBC.

3.“The Purell Defense: Can hand sanitizers really affect your blood-alcohol level?” by Nina Rastogi. Slate.

4.“Is it ok to use a non-alcohol hand sanitizer on children?” by Ivy Morris.

5. "Percutaneous ethyl alcohol intoxication in a one-month-old infant." Dalt LD, et al.

6. "Safety evaluation of topical applications of ethanol on the skin and inside the oral cavity" by Dirk M Lachenmeier. Journal of Occupational Medicine and Toxicology.


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    • stirringtrouble profile image

      Jm Bob 

      6 years ago from London, United Kingdom

      Interesting news for people in hospitals and other people who get there hands messy like refuge collectors and dog walkers. Like it.

    • Schatzie Speaks profile imageAUTHOR

      Schatzie Speaks 

      7 years ago

      that is a good question! i imagine it could be a more budget-friendly way to get that buzz ;) from what i read, there are multiple cases where people have been caught drinking it! unfortunately, the patient in the cited article was an alcoholic, so he was probably just desperate. but as for the others...

    • Natashalh profile image


      7 years ago from Hawaii

      Wow - fascinating stuff.

    • adrienne2 profile image

      Adrienne F Manson 

      7 years ago from Atlanta

      I am with you @Phoebe why on earth would anyone even think of drinking it. UGH! and double Yuck!!

    • profile image

      Phoebe Pike 

      7 years ago

      Why would anyone want to drink that? *Shiver* I can't imagine ever wanting to.


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