Hand sanitizers have become a common and necessary item in the current era. With the outbreak of COVID-19, the use of hand sanitizers has increased tremendously. They are used to disinfect hands and surfaces and to protect people from contracting infection. However, like any other product, it is important to know how much of it is safe for use. This article will discuss how much hand sanitizer is lethal, its effects, and what factors can increase its toxicity.
What is hand sanitizer?
Hand sanitizer is an alcohol-based agent that is used to disinfect hands and surfaces. It contains ethanol, isopropyl alcohol, or n-propanol as its main ingredient. These chemicals are known to have antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal properties that can kill a wide range of microbes. They are available in different forms like gel, liquid, foam, and wipes, making them easy to use and portable.
How does hand sanitizer work?
Hand sanitizers work by denaturing proteins, which leads to the destruction of the cell membrane of microorganisms, making them inactive. It interrupts the intermolecular hydrogen bonding in the proteins present in microorganisms, causing them to lose their native structure. This effect is similar to when we cook eggs at high temperatures, which results in the denaturation of proteins and the loss of their original structure.
What is the normal amount of hand sanitizer recommended?
The recommended amount of hand sanitizer to use is a pea-sized drop for each hand. This amount is sufficient to clean the hands from most of the microbes present. However, the amount can vary depending on the size of your hands and the percentage of alcohol present in the hand sanitizer. Hand sanitizers with higher alcohol content are more effective and less toxic because they require less amount of product to do the job.
What are the harmful effects of hand sanitizer?
Hand sanitizers can have harmful effects if ingested, sniffed, or excessively exposed to the skin. The most common effect of hand sanitizer is skin irritation, which can lead to dryness, redness, and peeling of the skin. This happens because of the presence of alcohol, which dries out the skin of its natural oils. Extreme exposure or ingestion of hand sanitizer can also cause alcohol poisoning, which can result in vomiting, dizziness, confusion or worse, coma and death.
How much hand sanitizer is lethal?
Hand sanitizer can be lethal if ingested in large amounts. The lethal dose of hand sanitizer varies depending on the concentration of alcohol present in the sanitizer. Ethanol, which is the main ingredient in hand sanitizer, has an LD50 (Lethal Dose, 50%) of 7.06g/kg. This means that for an average adult weighing 70kg, the lethal dose of ethanol is approximately 500mL or 16.9oz of pure ethanol. However, most hand sanitizers contain lower concentration of alcohol, ranging from 60 to 95%, making the amount needed for lethality much higher, around 10-30 fluid ounces for an adult.
What factors can increase the toxicity of hand sanitizer?
1. Age and weight of the person
The toxic effects of hand sanitizer vary depending on the weight and age of the person consuming it. Children and infants have lower weight and undeveloped organs, making them more susceptible to alcohol poisoning. Hence, it is important to keep hand sanitizers out of reach of children and supervise their use.
2. The concentration of alcohol present in the sanitizer
Sanitizers with higher alcohol concentration are more potent and require a lesser amount to cause toxicity. People using these sanitizers should be careful not to overuse them and follow recommended quantities.
3. Type of alcohol present in the sanitizer
Some types of alcohol, like methanol or propanol, are more toxic than ethanol, the common ingredient in hand sanitizer. Ingestion or excessive exposure to these alcohols can cause severe damage to the internal organs, resulting in hospitalization or death. Hence, it is important to check the label and the type of alcohol present in the sanitizer before buying it.
How to use hand sanitizer safely?
To use hand sanitizer safely, follow these guidelines:
- Use only the recommended amount of hand sanitizer, which is a pea-sized drop for each hand.
- Do not use hand sanitizer on cuts or injured skin.
- Avoid using hand sanitizer near open flames, as they are highly flammable.
- Keep hand sanitizers out of reach of children, infants and pets.
- Supervise the use of hand sanitizer by children and people with disabilities.
Hand sanitizer is a useful product in preventing the spread of infection, but it can also be toxic if not used properly. It is important to follow recommended guidelines and proportions to avoid any harm. Alcohol poisoning can be fatal and requires immediate medical attention. As a responsible citizen, one should be aware of the potential dangers and use hand sanitizer wisely.
Unordered List of Common Questions and Their Answers
- Q: Is hand sanitizer safe to use on a regular basis?
- A: Yes, hand sanitizer is safe to use on a regular basis as long as it is used in limited quantities and not ingested.
- Q: Can hand sanitizer kill all types of germs?
- A: No, hand sanitizer cannot kill all types of germs. It is effective against most common bacteria and viruses, but not against spores, fungi or some parasites.
- Q: Can hand sanitizer expire?
- A: Yes, hand sanitizer can expire. It has a shelf life of 2-3 years after the manufacture date, and after that, it can lose its effectiveness.
- Q: Can hand sanitizer cause cancer?
- A: No, there is no evidence to suggest that hand sanitizer can cause cancer. The main ingredient, ethanol, is safe and widely used in many consumer products.
- Q: Can hand sanitizer prevent me from getting sick?
- A: Hand sanitizer can help reduce the risk of getting sick by killing the bacteria and viruses present on your hands. However, it cannot prevent all types of infections, and other precautions like social distancing and wearing masks need to be followed.
 Voluntary Guidelines for Hand Hygiene in Healthcare Settings. World Health Organization. Available at: https://www.who.int/gpsc/5may/tools/who_guidelines-handhygiene_summary.pdf?ua=1.
 Ho JK, Pontell L, Chong J. Hand Sanitizer Toxicity. StatPearls. 2021.