While washing your hands for at least 20 seconds is preferred, using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer can be an effective way to clean your hands when soap and water are not easily available. However, federal regulators are warning consumers to avoid nearly 150 different hand sanitizers because they contain dangerous chemicals or their alcohol levels are too low to be effective. Some of the hand sanitizer brands have been sold at national retailers like Walmart and Costco, which have recalled the products.
What is wrong with the recalled sanitizers?
Some hand sanitizers are being recalled because they contain methanol, also known as wood alcohol, which can be toxic when ingested or absorbed through the skin, according to a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warning. Hand sanitizers should never contain methanol, which is used industrially as a solvent and pesticide. Exposure to methanol can cause nausea, vomiting, headache, blurred vision, blindness, seizures, coma, permanent damage to the nervous system or death.
Can I just check product labels for methanol?
No, unfortunately looking at labels is not enough. According to the FDA, some of the products were mislabeled, so consumers would not be able to tell which hand sanitizers actually contain methanol. The FDA has compiled a list of the recalled products on its website. The best way to find out if your hand sanitizer was recalled is to check the FDA list.
Note: Scroll to the bottom of the FDA website to search the list of recalled products.
The FDA is urging consumers not to use any hand sanitizer products from the manufacturers on their list even if the product or particular lot number are not listed. If any of the identifiers match a product on the list, the FDA urges consumers to stop using the hand sanitizer. Do not flush or pour these products down the drain or mix with other liquids. You should dispose of the sanitizer bottle in a hazardous waste container, or at a hazardous waste collection facility.
General Safety Tips
It is important to understand that any hand sanitizer can be harmful when used improperly. The Washington Poison Center has issued a list of safety tips for hand sanitizer use:
- Do not swallow any hand sanitizers.
- Only use hand sanitizers for their intended purpose: to clean hands.
- Supervise children when using hand sanitizer. Apply a small amount to the child’s hands, and have them rub their hands together until dry.
- Keep hand sanitizers out of sight and out of reach of children when not in use.
- Contact the Washington Poison Center immediately (1-800-222-1222) if someone has swallowed hand sanitizer. Do not wait for symptoms to occur.
How do I use hand sanitizer effectively to kill viruses like COVID-19?
When using hand sanitizer, the CDC recommends that you 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, which should take about 30 seconds. Studies have shown that hand sanitizers may not be as effective when your hands are visibly dirty or greasy, so thoroughly washing your hands with soap and water is a better option in those cases.