Updated: Jun 2, 2020
The Michigan Poison Center at the Wayne State University School of Medicine notes that during the COVID-19 pandemic and because of a shortage of hand sanitizer, many distilleries have graciously switched production from beer and liquors to alcohol-based hand sanitizer. This is very helpful to first responders and hospitals that need this product. However, it has introduced a new problem. Containers used to store hand sanitizer from distilleries may not look like the national brands and may be confused with drinkable ethanol because of their packaging. Some distilleries are using beer bottles or cans, water bottles or liquor bottles. Although they will likely have a label stating “hand sanitizer,” a child or preoccupied adult may mistake them for an alcoholic beverage. This can cause confusion for those who consume alcoholic beverages and lead to accidental ingestion of these products.
Commonly used alcohol-based hand sanitizers contain ethyl alcohol (ethanol) 62% to 70% or isopropyl alcohol. Other ingredients used in these products may be water, aloe leaf juice, glycerin and fragrances. Some distilleries are producing hand sanitizer with the same ingredients as national brands. Regardless of formulation used, hand sanitizer should never be consumed. The Michigan Poison Center does not recommend using hand-sanitizers unless the alcohol used is ethanol or isopropyl alcohol. Other alcohols have not been shown to be effective. Unfortunately, hand sanitizers have been produced using windshield washer fluid containing methanol, which is highly toxic and can be absorbed through the skin. Methanol is not effective against COVID-19.
Unintentional ingestion of hand sanitizer is common in children; national brands use pumps and small spouts that prevent accidental large ingestion of hand sanitizer. Remember to store hand sanitizer out of reach and sight of children and impaired adults. The distillery-produced hand sanitizers do not have child-resistant caps. Because there is a risk to children and some adults, please call the Poison Center at 800-222-1222 if you suspect that someone may have ingested these products.
If you have questions about the safety of hand sanitizers you may be using, please call:
Michigan Poison Center