Hand Sanitiser: FAQs on Safety and Uses

Hand Sanitiser: FAQs on Safety and Uses
11 April 2021

Hand Sanitiser: FAQs on Safety and Uses

Hand Sanitiser: FAQs on Safety and Uses

Hand sanitiser is classed as a biocide by The Health and Safety Executive. According to The HSE, “Biocidal products are used to protect people and animals, preserve goods, stop pests like insects or rodents and control viruses, bacteria and fungi through a chemical or biological action.”

While biocides are highly regulated to make sure they are safe for use, there are still risks associated with misuse, so it’s important to know what you should and shouldn’t do with hand sanitiser.

Find answers to questions about hand sanitiser safety and what it can and can’t be used for here.

Hand sanitiser bottle

Hand Sanitiser: Health and Safety

Hand Sanitiser: Health and Safety - Image of hands

Is hand sanitiser flammable?

Many people have taken to social media asking ‘is alcohol-based hand sanitiser flammable?’. In part, this is due to misleading Facebook posts suggesting the aftermath of a car door explosion was caused by hand gel spontaneously combusting due to a hot ambient temperature. While these posts have been debunked, as the auto-ignition temperature of ethanol is around 363°c, it’s important to know that hand gel is still flammable. 

For hand gel to catch fire below the auto-ignition temperature, it would have to be exposed to a spark or flame. When using hand gel make sure you are standing away from naked flames, and be wary of any flames or sparks just after using hand gel in case there is any residue left on your skin.

Hang gel is classed as a Class I Flammable Liquid substance as it has a flashpoint of under 100°c. The flashpoint of most hand gels is around 21°c. When it reaches its flashpoint, the hand gel will begin to give off a flammable vapour, meaning the air around the substance poses a fire risk. 

Is hand sanitiser rubbing alcohol?

Is rubbing alcohol the same as hand sanitiser? Not quite. The main difference between the two is that rubbing alcohol contains denaturants and this is what makes it unsuitable for human consumption. Rubbing alcohol is mixed with methanol, methyl ethyl ketone, acetone, and denatonium to make it unpalatable and unappealing to humans, as well as to put it into a different tax category for commercial purposes. Rubbing alcohol contains around 68–72% alcohol.

Hand sanitiser is made to be more pleasant to use, safer, and kinder to the skin. In an emergency, you could sterilise your hands with rubbing alcohol, but using it regularly could seriously damage your skin. 

What happens if you swallow hand sanitiser?

Is hand sanitiser toxic if ingested? Yes, it can be toxic and even fatal. Hand sanitiser contains high concentrations of alcohol, ethanol, isopropanol or n-propanol specifically. The type and concentration of alcohol in hand gel is not designed to be consumed and could give you alcohol poisoning, make you seriously ill, or even cause death just from a small amount.

What happens if you inhale hand sanitiser?

Inhaling the vapours of hand sanitiser can cause some adverse effects including nausea, dizziness, and headaches. Unless you’re in very close contact with hand sanitiser you’re not likely to experience these effects, but it’s important to use it in a well-ventilated area. 

Can you be allergic to hand sanitiser?

If you have allergies it’s important to check the ingredients list before you buy a hand sanitiser.  A study by the British Journal of Dermatology found that “contact allergy to fragrance or other components in hand sanitiser/gels may present acutely with pompholyx” when an 11-year-old boy was admitted to hospital with acute blistering on the palms following use of a fragranced hand gel. 

Opting for a fragrance-free hand gel is the best way to minimise the risk of irritation or contact dermatitis. Stereo-san hand gel is fragrance-free and has been dermatologically tested to be kind to sensitive skin.

How much alcohol is needed in hand sanitiser?

Hand sanitiser must contain at least 60% alcohol for it to be effective. This means that at 60%, the alcohol in the hand gel is strong enough to kill a considerable amount of germs to stop transmission. 

The higher the alcohol content in hand sanitiser the more powerful a disinfectant it is, but only to a degree. Too high an alcohol content means there won’t be enough water in the solution to act as a catalyst in transferring the active ingredient to your skin and providing enough contact time. 

Too much alcohol can also cause damage to the skin on your hands. A hand gel, like Stereo-san, has an alcohol content of 70% and also has moisturising properties to prevent dehydration of the skin. 

Is alcohol-based hand sanitiser safe?

Alcohol-based hand sanitiser is safe when used correctly. You should use hand sanitiser to clean your hands when you cannot use soap and water. Never put hand gel into your mouth or into open wounds and do not use it on delicate skin like your face. 

What happens if my dog eats hand sanitiser?

Ingestion of large quantities of hand sanitiser can give your dog ethanol intoxication. Symptoms of ethanol intoxication can show in 30-90 minutes of ingesting and are:

Difficulty breathing 
Decreased co-ordination
Upset stomach
Behavioural changes

If you suspect your dog has ingested some hand sanitiser call your vet and arrange to bring your dog in for an exam. Bring the product packaging with you and it might help if you can discern how much your dog has ingested.   

Does hand sanitiser cause eczema?

If you have sensitive skin or are prone to skin problems hand sanitiser could cause eczema or contact dermatitis. A good way to avoid dehydrating your skin through regular use of hand sanitiser is to use moisturiser after each application, or better yet, use a moisturising hand gel

Can hand sanitiser make your hands peel?

Overuse, or using a hand gel that is too harsh can cause the skin on your hands to dry out, flake, and peel. If this happens, the course, uneven texture of your skin will make it easier to pick up bacteria and harder to disinfect. It could also lead to cracks that are prone to infection. It’s important to use a hand sanitiser that is kind to sensitive skin, like Stero-san which is dermatologically tested. 

How to tell if hand sanitiser is expired?

It’s hard to tell if hand sanitiser has expired just by inspecting it as its consistency won’t change much. The best way to know for sure is to check the use-by date on the packaging. If you’re wondering what to do with expired hand sanitiser you can simply empty the bottle down the kitchen sink and put it in your recycling bin. 

Can you become immune to hand sanitiser?

It’s not possible to become immune to hand sanitiser. No matter how many times you use it, the alcohol present in the hand gel will always have the same effect of killing germs on your skin. There is no way of building up a tolerance to it. 

Hand Sanitiser: Uses 

Using hand sanitiser on the plane

Can you clean earrings with hand sanitiser?

Using hand sanitiser to sterilise your earrings is fine as long as you’ve cleaned them first to ensure any residue had been removed beforehand.

Can you use hand sanitiser on phone screens and covers?

Apple recommends cleaning a mobile phone with an alcohol wipe. Hand sanitiser is not advisable as you risk letting moisture into the seams and ports of the device which could damage it.

Can you use hand sanitiser to clean glasses?

Cleaning your glasses with hand gel is not recommended. The alcohol content in hand sanitiser could erode away lens coatings and finishes on your glasses. 

Can you mix hand sanitiser with lotion?

Combining hand sanitiser with lotion or moisturiser will negate the effects of the gel. Mixing hand gel with another substance will not only expose it to potentially infectious material, but it’ll also reduce the overall alcohol content of the solution, affecting its potency.  

Does hand sanitiser clean your hands?

Hand sanitiser disinfects, rather than cleans. If you need to disinfect your hands and can’t wash them, a hand sanitiser is a convenient tool to make sure you’re keeping your hands free of bacteria and pathogens. If your hands are visibly dirty, hand sanitiser will not clean them. The particles of dirty must be scrubbed from your skin before you can disinfect them. 

Can you mail hand sanitiser internationally?

The Royal Mail prohibits sending alcoholic substances above 24% internationally. Sending alcoholic substances between 24% and 70% domestically in the UK is allowed provided you follow packing restrictions

Can I take hand sanitiser on a plane?

Can you take hand sanitiser on a plane? Yes, hand sanitiser is a liquid and the following restrictions on liquids apply: only bring hand gel in containers of 100ml or less and put it into a clear plastic bag to show when you go through airport security. 

Laws might be different about whether you can bring hand gel from the UK to certain countries so check with the local government before you fly.

Does hand sanitiser freeze?

Can you freeze hand sanitiser? Yes, but not in a conventional freezer. Hand gel contains a minimum alcohol content of 60%, and alcohol has a much lower freezing temperature than water. The freezing point of hand sanitiser would be around -114°C in order for the main component, ethyl alcohol, for example, to freeze.

Does hand sanitiser stain?

Hand sanitiser isn’t likely to stain fabric, although there is a possibility that colourants used in hand sanitiser could stain very light fabrics. 

Hand sanitiser is more likely to lift colour from fabric, as some hand gels contain types of alcohol with bleaching properties. The best thing to do if you get hand gel on fabric is to do a spot clean following the cleaning instructions of the garment.

Where can I buy hand sanitiser?

If you run a business and get through a lot of hand sanitiser, Steroplast offers 500ml bottles of EN1500 Standard certified hand gel.

Stero-san 500ml bottles are also designed to be bottom heavy and easy to use in high traffic environments.

How much does hand sanitiser cost?

A good hand sanitiser shouldn’t be too expensive, but watch out for cheap alternatives too. Many brands offer unregulated hand sanitisers that are harmful and against the law. Check this list of hand gel products the FDA and CDC warn against consumers using. Unregulated hand gels may contain chemicals that are toxic, carcinogenic or cause irritation. Or they might simply not work at all.

For a hand gel that will be repeatedly applied to your skin, choose a product that is certified, high quality, and from a trusted brand.

Stero-san Hand Sanitiser Gel from Sterolast

  • Tested in the UK
  • EN1500 Standard certified
  • Dermatologically tested
  • Moisturing properties
  • 70% alcohol content

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