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One of the best ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is to wash your hands with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent ethanol (also known as ethyl alcohol).
The FDA regulates hand sanitizer as an over-the-counter drug, available without a prescription. We test hand sanitizers for quality because it is a product we regulate. We discovered serious safety concerns with some hand sanitizers during recent testing, including:
- Contamination with potentially toxic types of alcohol
- Not enough active ingredient (ethyl alcohol or isopropyl alcohol)
- Labels with false, misleading, or unproven claims
Some hand sanitizers have been recalled and there are more than 150 hand sanitizers the FDA recommends you stop using right away.
Check the FDA’s Do-Not-Use List
Before you buy hand sanitizer or use hand sanitizer you have at home, the FDA recommends checking our do-not-use list at www.fda.gov/handsanitizerlist. We update the list regularly as new test results are released. Bookmark the list in your web browser so that you can check each hand sanitizer before using it.
How to Search FDA’s Hand Sanitizer Do-Not-Use List
- Go to www.fda.gov/handsanitizerlist.
- Click or tap on the red button that says, “Hand sanitizers consumers should not use.”
- Scroll down the page to the search box at the top of the do-not-use list.
- Using the information on the hand sanitizer label, type one of the following in the search box:
- Product or brand name
- Manufacturer, or the company that produced the product (may not be included on the product label)
- Distributor, the company that brings the product to market
- NDC or National Drug Code number (may not be included on the product label)
- Do not use any hand sanitizer made by manufacturers on the list.
If the manufacturer is not listed on the label, contact the distributor to find out who manufactured the product. If the distributor refuses to clarify this information when you contact them, the FDA recommends not using the product.
Use our step-by-step guide to search the do-not-use list at www.fda.gov/handsanitizerlist.
If Your Hand Sanitizer Is on the Do-Not-Use List
If you have a hand sanitizer on the do-not-use list, or one made by a manufacturer on the list, stop using it immediately. Throw it away in a hazardous waste container, if you can. Do not flush or pour the product down the drain or mix it with other liquids. If you do not have hazardous waste disposal where you live, contact your trash or recycling company or your local government to ask where you can get rid of hazardous waste.
Methanol and 1-Propanol Are Toxic
There are many types of alcohol. Only ethyl alcohol and isopropyl alcohol (also known as 2-propanol) are acceptable alcohols in hand sanitizer. Other types of alcohol, including methanol and 1-propanol, are not acceptable in hand sanitizer because they can be toxic to humans. Recent FDA safety testing discovered some hand sanitizers contaminated with these potentially toxic types of alcohol.
Methanol or methyl alcohol, also known as wood alcohol, is used to make rocket fuel and antifreeze and is very toxic. Methanol should never be rubbed on your skin or swallowed. Swallowing or drinking hand sanitizers contaminated with methanol can cause serious health problems, including permanent blindness, and death. The CDC website has more information about people who died or were permanently blinded after swallowing hand sanitizer contaminated with methanol.
1-Propanol or 1-propyl alcohol is used to make industrial solvents (a type of cleaner) and can also be toxic to humans when swallowed. Swallowing or drinking a hand sanitizer with 1-propanol can result in decreased breathing and heart rate, among other serious symptoms, and can lead to death. Hand sanitizer with 1-propanol contamination can irritate your skin (or eyes, if exposed). Although it is rare, some people have reported allergic skin reactions.
Never Swallow Hand Sanitizer
You should never swallow or drink any type of hand sanitizer because you can get alcohol poisoning. Children are at higher risk of accidentally swallowing hand sanitizer, and due to their smaller body size, are at high risk for health problems after swallowing hand sanitizer.
It is impossible to know from looking at the hand sanitizer if it is contaminated with a very toxic type of alcohol. Alcohol poisoning, from any type of alcohol, can cause serious health problems or death. If someone swallows hand sanitizer call Poison Control immediately at 1-800-222-1222 to get help.
Check the Label
Usually hand sanitizers contaminated with potentially toxic types of alcohol, such as methanol or 1-propanol, do not have the toxic ingredient listed on the label. However, if methanol or 1-propanol is listed on your hand sanitizer label, you should stop using it immediately and put it into a hazardous waste container.
FDA test results also showed some hand sanitizers had much lower levels of active ingredient than listed on the label. The CDC recommends alcohol-based hand sanitizers have at least 60% ethyl alcohol (sometimes listed as “alcohol” on the label). FDA testing revealed some hand sanitizers that have concerningly low levels of these active ingredients. In the “Product status” column of the do-not-use list, these products are called “subpotent.”
False or Misleading Label Claims
During the coronavirus pandemic the FDA has found some false or misleading claims on hand sanitizer labels. Before you buy hand sanitizer you should know that no hand sanitizer has been proven to:
- Prevent the spread of COVID-19
- Protect you from viruses or bacteria for a certain period of time, such as 24-hours
No consumer hand sanitizer is FDA-approved, so that claim on any consumer hand sanitizer is not trustworthy.
Warn Children and Teens About Hand Sanitizer
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, calls to poison centers nationwide have increased because children have accidentally swallowed hand sanitizer that may look like candy or a sweet drink. Swallowing hand sanitizer can cause alcohol poisoning, serious health problems, and death.
Tell children and teens that no one should swallow hand sanitizer for any reason and that it’s impossible to tell if hand sanitizer is contaminated just from looking at it or using it. Call 911 or Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222 immediately if someone swallows hand sanitizer of any type.
Hand Sanitizer and Pets Do Not Mix
Keep hand sanitizer away from pets and never use it on your pet’s paws or skin, as this can cause alcohol poisoning, serious health problems, and death. If your pet gets hand sanitizer on their skin or accidentally ingests it (such as by chewing the bottle), contact your veterinarian or an animal poison control service immediately.
Look for Information on FDA.gov
Bookmark www.FDA.gov so that you always have the latest information to protect yourself and your family during the coronavirus pandemic.