Intoxicated Children: The Price for Clean Hands

The target audience for this blog is parents of young children who use had sanitizer to clean their children’s hands and who likely have multiple bottles of hand sanitizer in their baby bags, hand bags, in the car and around the home. The blog is to remind parents of the active ingredient (alcohol) in hand sanitizers and as such, the chemical exposure and risk to children swallowing the contents.

Intoxicated Children: The Price for Clean Hands

Before leaving the house with children, there is always the quick checklist to ensure we have what we need when we’re out and about. Nappies, baby wipes, snacks, drink bottles, toys and don’t forget the hand sanitizer! The wondrous invention that enables us to clean our children’s hands ‘on the go’ and to kill those nasty germs from their explorative little hands.  We apply the sanitizer liberally in their palms and watch as our children slosh it around between their fingers. Clean hands, check! We keep multiple bottles in different locations so we always have sanitizer on hand: in the car, in the baby bag, in the kitchen, in the bathroom. However have we become blasé as to the contents of hand sanitizer and the potential chemical risk to our children?

Hand sanitizers are available in a variety of colourful, sometimes glittery and scented packaging, which can be enticing for young children. However the main active ingredient in a majority of hand sanitizers is alcohol or ethyl alcohol (ethanol). The alcohol is the antimicrobial that kills bacteria (those nasty germs) yet it is the alcohol content that presents a chemical exposure to our children. These enticingly colourful packaged liquids can find their way into our children’s mouths and swallowed. According to the Georgia Poison Centre, USA (2015, para.1), “it is the same alcohol found in beer, wine and other liquors….but at a much higher concentration. The concentration of alcohol in hand sanitizers varies from 45% to 95% with the most commonly used in the range of 60-70%”. A few mouthfuls of hand sanitizer swallowed by a young child can cause alcohol poisoning (Rayar & Ratnapalan, 2013). In 2015 in Melbourne, a three-year old suffered severe alcohol poisoning after consuming up to 55ml of hand sanitizer whilst playing with the bottle with their younger sibling (Medew, 2015).

So parents, let’s keep the multitude of hand sanitizer bottles we have, with the fruity smells and shimmering shine, out of those easy to reach places for our children and perhaps even consider the non-alcohol sanitizers. Remember, a lick of hand sanitizer won’t hurt a child (or anyone else for that matter), but drinking mouthfuls can cause serious intoxication to our most vulnerable little humans.

Jane Mortensen


Georgia Poison Centre (2015). Retrieved from

Medew, J (2015, July 6). Three-year-old suffers alcohol poisoning after drinking hand gel. The Age. Retrieved from

National Capital Poison Center. Poison Control (2012-2016). Hand sanitizer: what’s the real story? Retrieved from

Rayar P, Ratnapalan S. (2013). Pediatric ingestions of house hold products containing ethanol: a review. Clinical Pediatrics. Vol.52(3), pp.203-9.

Intoxicated Children: The Price for Clean Hands

Intoxicated Children: The Price for Clean Hands