UNC Health Care
An illustration showing a repeat patter of hand sanitizer bottles.

Caution: Hand Sanitizer Poses a Poisoning Risk for Children

Hand sanitizer seems to be everywhere right now as families try to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). However, this has led to a rise in accidental ingestions by children who have ingested the germ killing liquid, which can be lethal. That’s because the active ingredient in hand sanitizers is ethyl alcohol, and even a small amount of alcohol can cause alcohol poisoning or death in children.

The amount of alcohol in hand sanitizer ranges from 40 to 95 percent, and most hand sanitizer products contain more 60 percent ethyl alcohol, which is a stronger alcohol concentration than nearly all hard liquor. By comparison, beer contains 5 to 10 percent alcohol, and wine contains 10 to 15 percent alcohol. 

Here are some tips to prevent harmful exposure to hand sanitizer: 

 1. Keep hand sanitizers out of reach.  

Store your hand sanitizer with medicines and household products, which should be away and out of sight in a cabinet where a child cannot reach them. After using hand sanitizer, do not leave it out. As soon as you are done using it, put it away and out of sight.  

2. Monitor any hand sanitizer use.

Make sure your child only uses hand sanitizer under adult supervision. When using hand sanitizer on yourself or your child, apply a dime-sized amount to dry hands and rub hands together until completely dry. Tell children to keep hands away from their faces, especially their mouths. This is good practice for preventing disease transmission and ingestion of hand sanitizer.  

3. Get in the habit of hand-washing instead.

The best way to clean hands is hand-washing with soap and water. This method removes most germs from the hands. Hand sanitizers should only be used when hand-washing is not an option, such as when you don’t have access to water or soap. 

4. Be prepared for an accidental poisoning. 

Put the poison help number, 1-800-222-1222, in your cell phone and post it by any landline phones and on instructions to babysitters. The line is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.


If your child has ingested a poisonous substance, remain calm. If your child is unconscious or has trouble breathing, call 911. If your child is awake and alert, call the Poison Help hotline at 1-800-222-1222 immediately—do not wait for symptoms to occur.