Parents and caregivers who lack access to soap and running water may need alternative ways to clean the hands of children. Hand sanitizers may kill germs more effectively than antimicrobial wipes or towelettes, according to the Mayo Clinic. However, hand sanitizers do not remove all traces of food and eliminate the risk of food allergies, notes the City of Ottawa. Hand sanitizers may also irritate cuts or rashes on the hands and should be avoided.
Hand sanitizers contain as much as 60 percent alcohol, which can pose a risk to small children who may ingest the substance directly due to its appealing smell and seemingly harmless clear color. Dr. Sanjay Grupta, medical correspondent for CNN.com, warns that a sip of hand sanitizer is equivalent to a sip of a mixed drink, and a 2-oz. bottle of sanitizer contains the same alcohol content as four shots of vodka. Young children with low body weight may be at particular risk of alcohol poisoning. Adults should be alert and vigilant, obtaining immediate help if a child displays signs of poisoning such as dizziness, slurred speech or vomiting.
Hand sanitizers must be kept from sources of heat or flame, since the products contain a high percentage of alcohol. They should be stored a far distance from radiators, stoves, campfires or cigarettes. Children should refrain from touching surfaces with hands that are wet with hand sanitizer, such as clothing or furniture, as this can render them more flammable. Indoors, spilled sanitizer should be wiped up quickly and the soiled cloths disposed of safely out of reach of children.
Hand sanitizers should not be considered a substitute for frequent and thorough hand washing, notes the Centers for Disease Control. The CDC warns that alcohol-based hand sanitizers are not effective on children’s hands that are visibly dirty or that are contaminated with organic materials, such as after food preparation or bathroom use. According to the CDC, alcohol-based hand sanitizers may also provide limited help against certain bacteria and the norovirus, another term for the common stomach flu.