How to Use Hand Sanitizer Safely

FDA offers tips on safely using hand sanitizer during the COVID-19 pandemic

(RxWiki News) At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, hand sanitizer was flying off of the shelves. Now, it's a little easier to get your hands on, but are you using it correctly?

Here is everything you need to know about hand sanitizer during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hand Sanitizer vs. Soap and Water

If soap and water are not available, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol.

The 60 percent alcohol concentration is key because several studies have shown that hand sanitizers with a lower alcohol concentration or non-alcohol-based hand sanitizers simply do not do the trick. Hand sanitizers with an alcohol concentration between 60 and 95 percent are more effective at killing germs.

It's important to note that hand sanitizers may not be as effective as washing hands with soap and water in some situations:

  • When hands are visibly dirty or greasy
  • At eliminating all types of germs (In the case of certain germs like Cryptosporidium, norovirus and Clostridium difficile, washing with soap and water is more effective.)
  • At removing harmful chemicals, such as pesticides and heavy metals, from your hands

Furthermore, there is a risk that people may not use enough hand sanitizer or may wipe it off before it has dried and become the most effective.

Some Hand Sanitizers May Be Risky

The FDA has warned about some safety concerns tied to certain brands of hand sanitizer in recent months. These hand sanitizers may contain methanol, or wood alcohol, which is a substance often used to create fuel and antifreeze.

Methanol is not an acceptable ingredient for hand sanitizers. In fact, methanol can be toxic — especially when absorbed through the skin or ingested.

The FDA reported an increasing number of adverse events tied to hand sanitizers with methanol, such as blindness and effects on the heart and central nervous system. Some of these events led to hospitalizations.

In high amounts, methanol exposure can lead to nausea, vomiting, headache and blurred vision. It can also lead to permanent blindness, seizures, coma and permanent damage to the nervous system.

Young children face an even higher risk because they may accidentally ingest these products.

Furthermore, the FDA said it was finding hand sanitizers that are "subpotent," meaning they have low levels of ethyl alcohol and isopropyl alcohol.

The FDA continued to add to the list of hand sanitizers not to use. As of publication time, there were 224 entries on the list.

How to Use Hand Sanitizer

Apply the product to the palm of one hand and rub the product all over the surfaces of your hands until your hands are dry.

Always read the label to learn the correct amount to apply.

If you have any questions or concerns about hand sanitization, speak with your health care provider.

Review Date: 
January 7, 2021