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  • Judy Newberger, RN

Hand Sanitizer - Poison Risk for Children!

Frequently, handwashing has been one of the most recommended ways of reducing the spread of the coronavirus and other sources of infections. When washing hands is not possible, hand sanitizers made with 60% or greater ethanol (ethanol or ethyl alcohol, isopropanol or isopropyl alcohol) are recommended by the CDC. These are widely available at St. John’s and other public spaces as an effective and inexpensive germ and virus killer. Several pumps are available at church for parishioners' use.

However, hand sanitizers' alcohol content is about 120 proof - more than vodka. Any more than a lick of the hand could possibly cause alcohol poisoning in a toddler. As little as one to two ounces could cause death in a small child. Hand sanitizer, by law, is denatured causing it to be bitter; however, small children are quick and may consume some sanitizer as they learn of its bitterness. The number of calls to Poison Control Center has increased during the pandemic.

Potentially serious toxicity can occur to a child who ingests hand sanitizer, depending on the amount ingested:

  • Drop in blood sugar, if severe can cause coma or seizures

  • Intoxication, possibly causing reduced heart rate and breathing

  • Stomach irritation causing nausea and vomiting

Methanol-contaminated sanitizers are more dangerous in even smaller amounts and can even be toxic from repeated use on the skin. Methanol will not be listed in contents. See FDA link in references below for the current list of contaminated brands.

Hand sanitizer is safe to use for children, but follow the following guidelines:

  • Use only a dime-sized amount.

  • Supervise children to ensure they rub hands until completely dry.

  • Do not allow children to use if not supervised.

  • Be observant in church and other public places as these bottles are everywhere.

  • Do not make home-made sanitizer. Incorrectly made, they can be too strong, causing burns, or not strong enough, making it ineffective.

  • Do not forget travel-size bottles in pocket, purse, diaper bags, backpacks and cars. These are easier for children to access. Keep out of children’s reach!

  • Share this information with babysitters, grandparents and other caregivers.

  • All hand sanitizer and other chemicals are to be kept out of children’s reach.

Other sources of alcohol ingestion and poisoning in children are:

  • Alcohol drinks or bottles left within a child’s reach

  • Perfume bottles or samples received in mail or magazines

  • Certain mouthwash

  • Some hair products

  • Some cleaners

If a child swallows hand sanitizer or any other product with alcohol, drug, or other toxic substance:

  • Have product on hand with information on amount consumed and product ingredients.

  • If unconscious, difficulty breathing, seizures, or cannot wake up child – Call 911 immediately!

  • Non-life-threatening situations: Contact Poison Control - or call 1-800-222-1222.

Alcohol is also dangerous for pets. Do not wipe your cat or dog’s paws with any form of alcohol. Call you vet or ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center 888-426-4435 if they have swallowed any alcohol.

For more information, see the references below.

Stay healthy and keep our kids safe!!

Judy Newberger RN

Parish Nurse, St. John the Baptist Catholic Church



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