Q&A for Consumers | Hand Sanitizers and COVID-19
FDA is working with U.S. government partners including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), medical product manufacturers, and international partners to address the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. Find the most recent FDA updates on our Coronavirus Disease 2019 page.
Test your knowledge about hand sanitizer. Take our hand sanitizer quiz.
Q: How can I prevent COVID-19?
A: The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to the virus and to get vaccinated. In addition, the CDC recommends everyday preventive actions to help prevent the spread of respiratory diseases. They include:
Wash your hands often with plain soap and water. The CDC recommends washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after you have been in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. If soap and water are not available, the CDC recommends using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol. Learn more about safely using hand sanitizer.
Cover your mouth and nose with a mask when around others. Find more information about how to select, wear, and clean your mask.
Get the COVID-19 vaccine. When you are fully vaccinated, you may be able to start doing some things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic.
Follow CDC guidance on large gatherings, social distancing and mask wearing, based on if you are fully vaccinated or not.
Learn how to protect your family and about the importance of getting your flu vaccine.
Q. Is hand sanitizer effective against COVID-19?
A. One of the best ways to prevent the spread of infections and decrease the risk of getting sick is by washing your hands with plain soap and water, advises the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Washing hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds is essential, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after coughing, sneezing, or blowing one’s nose. If soap and water are not available, CDC recommends consumers use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
Q. Should I be using antibacterial soap to wash my hands?
A. The best way to prevent the spread of infections and decrease the risk of getting sick is by washing your hands with plain soap and water, advises the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Washing hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds is essential, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after coughing, sneezing, or blowing one’s nose. There is currently no evidence that consumer antiseptic wash products (also known as antibacterial soaps) are any more effective at preventing illness than washing with plain soap and water. In fact, some data suggests that antibacterial ingredients could do more harm than good in the long-term and more research is needed.
For additional information, see Topical Antiseptic Products: Hand Sanitizers and Antibacterial Soaps.
Q. What do I do if I get a rash or other reaction to hand sanitizer?
A. Call your doctor if you experience a serious reaction to hand sanitizer. FDA encourages consumers and health care professionals to report adverse events experienced with the use of hand sanitizers to FDA’s MedWatch Adverse Event Reporting program:
- Complete and submit the report online; or
- Download and complete the form, then submit it via fax at 1-800-FDA-0178.
- Include as much information as you can about the product that caused the reaction, including the product name, the manufacturer, and the lot number (if available).
Q. Many surface cleaners and disinfectants say they can be used against SARS-CoV-2. What does this mean? Can I use these products on my hands or body to prevent or treat the virus?
A. Always follow the instructions on household cleaners. Do not use disinfectant sprays or wipes on your skin because they may cause skin and eye irritation. Disinfectant sprays or wipes are not intended for use on humans or animals. Disinfectant sprays or wipes are intended for use on hard, non-porous surfaces. Do not ingest or inhale disinfectant sprays.
View the current list of products that meet EPA’s criteria for use against SARS-CoV-2, the cause of COVID-19.
Q. If I add alcohol to non-alcohol hand sanitizer, will this be better to prevent COVID-19? Can I make my own hand sanitizer?
A. No. Addition of alcohol to an existing non-alcohol hand sanitizer is unlikely to result in an effective product. There are no antiseptic drug products, including hand sanitizer, that are approved by FDA to prevent or treat COVID-19. FDA recommends that consumers do not make their own hand sanitizer. If made incorrectly, hand sanitizer can be ineffective, and there have been reports of skin burns from homemade hand sanitizer. The agency lacks verifiable information on the methods being used to prepare hand sanitizer at home and whether they are safe for use on human skin.
Q. Does FDA regulate all hand sanitizers? Do hand sanitizers come with product information on their labeling?
A. Hand sanitizers are over-the-counter (OTC) drugs regulated by FDA.
Hand sanitizers that meet FDA’s OTC drug review conditions will include a “Drug Facts” panel with product information on the labeling. Consumers should assure they are following the warnings and precautions described on this label, particularly regarding use in children. The Drug Facts label will also describe the ingredients in the product.
Q. Do hand sanitizers have an expiration date? Are they still effective after the expiration date?
A. OTC drug products generally must list an expiration date unless they have data showing that they are stable for more than 3 years and their labeling does not bear dosage limitations. FDA does not have information on the stability or effectiveness of drug products past their expiration date (See 21 CFR 211.137). Hand sanitizer that was produced under FDA’s withdrawn temporary policies for hand sanitizer production and compounding may not have an expiration date listed because they are expected to be used during this public health emergency.
Q. Should empty or partially empty containers of hand sanitizer (e.g., pump bottles, wall-mounted dispensers) be refilled or “topped off”?
A. FDA does not recommend refilling empty or partially empty containers of hand sanitizer. The safety of refilling or “topping off” used containers of hand sanitizer has not been well-studied. Potential safety risks that may be associated with refilling or “topping off” containers of hand sanitizer include accidental contamination, mixing of different hand sanitizer products leading to irritant effects, reduced potency from the evaporation of alcohol, and loss of stability. In addition, accurate product labeling, including the drug facts label, should always be readily viewable at the time of use.
Q. Where should hand sanitizer be stored?
A. Hand sanitizer should be stored out of reach, and sight, of children. It should not be stored above 105°F (for example, it should not be stored in a car during the summer months).
Q. Is hand sanitizer flammable?
A. Yes. Hand sanitizer is flammable and should be stored away from heat or flame. Hand sanitizer should be rubbed into the hands until they feel completely dry before continuing activities that may involve heat, sparks, static electricity, or open flames.
Q. Is hand sanitizer dangerous for children?
A. For children under six years of age, hand sanitizer should be used with adult supervision. When used according to the directions on the Drug Facts Label, hand sanitizer is not dangerous for children.
Hand sanitizer is dangerous when ingested by children. Drinking only a small amount of hand sanitizer can cause alcohol poisoning in children. However, there is no need to be concerned if your children eat with or lick their hands after using hand sanitizer. It is also important to keep the product out of the eyes; FDA issued a Drug Safety Communication warning that getting alcohol-based hand sanitizer in the eyes from splashing or touching the eyes after use of hand sanitizer can result in serious injury, including severe irritation and damage to the surface of the eye.
Every month, there are hundreds of calls to Poison Control for unintentional ingestion of hand sanitizer. In March 2020 (during the COVID-19 pandemic), calls to Poison Control related to hand sanitizer increased by 79% compared to March of 2019. The majority of these calls were for unintentional exposures in children 5 years of age and younger. Therefore, it is very important to store hand sanitizer out of reach and monitor children when they are using hand sanitizer.
See Safely Using Hand Sanitizer for more information.
Q. What should you do if your child ingests hand sanitizer?
A. If your child ingests hand sanitizer, call poison control or a medical professional immediately.
Q. What are denaturants and why are they added to hand sanitizer?
A. Denaturants are added to alcohol to make it less appealing to ingest. Denatured alcohol is used in hand sanitizer to deter children from unintentional ingestion – the denatured alcohol makes the hand sanitizer taste bad so children will not want to continue once they have had a taste. There are a number of adverse events every year resulting from intentional or unintentional ingestion of hand sanitizer, which is a particular concern for young children.
Q. How can I find hand sanitizers listed with FDA, or verify that a company has listed its product with FDA?
A. FDA publishes product listing information provided by the companies that make the drug on the National Drug Code (NDC) Directory. This listing does not mean the drug is approved by FDA. Anyone can look up a drug product and download the information by searching on its NDC, company name or drug name. For a list of all hand sanitizers, choose the proprietary name search, and search for the term “hand sanitizer.”
Q. Is the spraying of aerosolized disinfectant onto humans via tunnels, walkways, chambers and similar systems effective in reducing the spread of COVID-19?
A. At this time, there is a lack of data to demonstrate that sanitation tunnels are effective in reducing the spread of SARS-CoV-2 infection or in treating COVID-19. Additionally, chemicals used in sanitation tunnels can irritate the skin, eyes, or airways and cause other health issues. Airway irritation can also cause coughing that may facilitate the transmission of SARS-CoV-2.
Human antiseptic drugs, including hand sanitizers, can be legally marketed for use on human skin but are not intended for aerosolization. Hand sanitizers are intended for use only on the hands and are not to be used over larger body surfaces, ingested, inhaled, or injected. Given serious safety concerns and the lack of data to demonstrate that sanitation tunnels are effective in reducing the spread of SARS-CoV-2 infection or in treating COVID-19, the FDA strongly discourages the use or development of sanitation tunnels at this time, as described in this February 2022 guidance titled “COVID-19 Public Health Emergency: Policy on COVID-19-Related Sanitation Tunnels.”
Surface disinfectants or sprays should not be used on humans or animals. They are intended for use on hard, non-porous surfaces. CDC provides information regarding disinfectant practices for surfaces in the Reopening Guidance for Cleaning and Disinfecting Public Spaces, Workplaces, Businesses, Schools, and Homes. CDC states you should never eat, drink, breathe or inject disinfectants into your body or apply directly to your skin as they can cause serious harm.
Q: What does it mean when the label of my hand sanitizer says “alcohol”?
A: Hand sanitizers labeled as containing the term “alcohol,” used by itself, are expected to contain ethanol (also known as ethyl alcohol). Only two alcohols are permitted as active ingredients in alcohol-based hand sanitizers – ethanol (ethyl alcohol) or isopropyl alcohol (isopropanol or 2-propanol). However, the term “alcohol,” used by itself, on hand sanitizer labels specifically refers to ethanol only.
Methanol and 1-propanol are not acceptable ingredients in hand sanitizer and can be toxic to humans.
Visit Is Your Hand Sanitizer on FDA’s List of Products You Should Not Use? for more information.
Q. Is it ok to use non-alcohol-based hand sanitizer instead of alcohol-based hand sanitizer? Is it ok to use hand sanitizer with benzalkonium chloride instead of alcohol-based hand sanitizer? Is non-alcohol-based hand sanitizer effective against COVID-19?
A. There are no antiseptic drug products, including hand sanitizer, that are approved by FDA to prevent or treat COVID-19. One of the best ways to prevent the spread of infections and decrease the risk of getting sick is by washing your hands with plain soap and water, advises the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Washing hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds is essential, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after coughing, sneezing, or blowing one’s nose. If soap and water are not available, CDC recommends consumers use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% ethanol.
While they are not alcohol-based, and thus not recommended by CDC, there are some hand sanitizer products containing benzalkonium chloride as an active ingredient that may be legally marketed if they meet the requirements for marketing under section 505G of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. However, as noted above, there are no hand sanitizers, including those containing benzalkonium chloride, that are legally marketed specifically for the prevention or treatment of COVID-19. Hand sanitizers using active ingredients other than alcohol (ethanol), isopropyl alcohol, or benzalkonium chloride are not legally marketed, and FDA recommends that consumers avoid their use.
Q. What is the risk of using a hand sanitizer that contains methanol (wood alcohol)?
A: FDA is warning consumers and health care professionals about hand sanitizers that contain methanol, also known as wood alcohol, because it is a dangerous and toxic substance. Methanol can cause serious side effects when absorbed through the skin and can cause blindness or death when swallowed. Do not use any products on this list of hand sanitizers with potential methanol contamination, and continue checking this list often as it is being updated daily. Check your hand sanitizer products to see if they are on this list and dispose of them immediately if they are. Most hand sanitizers found to contain methanol do not list it as an ingredient on the label (since it is not an acceptable ingredient in the product), so it’s important to check FDA’s list to see if the company or product is included. Visit FDA Updates on Hand Sanitizers with Methanol for more information.
Q. What should people do that have been exposed to hand sanitizer with potential methanol contamination?
A: Methanol exposure can result in nausea, vomiting, headache, blurred vision, permanent blindness, seizures, coma, permanent damage to the nervous system or death. Although people using these products on their hands are at risk for methanol poisoning, young children who accidentally swallow these products and adolescents and adults who drink these products as an alcohol (ethanol) substitute are most at risk. People who have been exposed to hand sanitizer containing methanol and are experiencing symptoms should seek immediate medical treatment for potential reversal of toxic effects of methanol poisoning.
Q: What should I do with hand sanitizer that contains methanol (wood alcohol)?
A: If you have one of the products on this list of hand sanitizers with potential methanol contamination, you should immediately stop using it and dispose of the product, ideally in a hazardous waste container. Because these hand sanitizers contain significant amounts of methanol, do not pour these products down the drain or flush them. Contact your local waste management and recycling center for more information on hazardous waste disposal.