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Hand Sanitizer - The Facts, the Myths and What Your Teenager Might Be Doing with It 

(Chester County Moms - May 9, 2012)

For years, Poison Control has been receiving calls from parents inquiring what they should when their small child ingests hand sanitizer. Many parents fear that their child would become intoxicated after licking hands. The truth is that the amount that would cause a child to become intoxicated is much more than would ever be used to treat hands. While the likelihood that a child could become intoxicated from licking hands after use is small, there still is a danger present.

It turns out, like drinking cold medicine, there is a trend of teenagers purposefully ingesting hand sanitizer to get drunk. Within the past month, there have been as many as six California teenagers hospitalized due to alcohol poisoning. This trend is on the rise, as many teenagers from all over the country broadcast their drunken results on YouTube.

Hand sanitizer contains 62 to 65 percent of ethyl alcohol, or ethanol, which is also the main ingredient in many alcoholic beverages. This makes the sanitizer 120 proof (vodka is 80-proof). Clearly, it takes only a few swallows for the person to get intoxicated.

What's worse is that many teenagers are creating videos showing hand sanitizer distilling methods to make the dose even more powerful. One common distilling method is salt, which breaks up the alcohol from the sanitizer. The videos show how to distill, in addition to laughing and carrying on to fulfill a dare.

It is a difficult problem to solve because of the ease of access to the hand sanitizer -- they are literally at every door/entrance way and are sold in pocket-sized containers. Maintaining a constant monitor on them is virtually impossible. Also, getting rid of them in all public places presents a problem as well, because hand sanitizer plays an important role in preventing the spread of illness and infection.

One way to combat the problem of abuse is to opt for foam hand sanitizer, as it is said to be a safer than the gel version. The foam version still presents a risk for alcohol poisoning, as it contains 62 percent ethyl alcohol. It is important to treat hand sanitizers like any other medication or household cleaners -- out of reach from children, and to ask permission before use.

If you suspect a teen or child has consumed hand sanitizer and is experiencing alcohol-poisoning symptoms - confusion, vomiting, seizures, unconsciousness or other - please call Poison Control or 9-1-1. (Chester County Poison Control can be reached at 215.386.2100 and the National Poison Control Hotline is 1.800.222.1222.)


The Chester County Hospital is affiliated with The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), ranked consistently by Child magazine as the best pediatric hospital in the United States. CHOP Pediatric Care at The Chester County Hospital is a joint pediatric service of CHOP and The Chester County Hospital. The program offers high-level inpatient and outpatient pediatric care by board-certified CHOP pediatricians.

Last Updated: 9/18/2012