What is the potential risk of hand sanitizer?

May 26, 2020

What is the potential risk of hand sanitizer?

It feels like Chemscape is fielding daily requests to obtain hand sanitizer SDSs or author SDSs for businesses that have begun to manufacture sanitizer to meet an increased demand due to COVID-19. Before COVID-19, hand sanitizer was used in large quantities in industries that required a food-grade disinfectant for workers and work surfaces.

What is in hand sanitizer?

Hand sanitizer contains either ethyl or isopropyl alcohol. For alcohol-based hand sanitizers, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends a concentration of 60% to 95% ethanol or isopropanol, the concentration range to kill germs and bacteria.  

What are the physical hazards of hand sanitizer?

Hand sanitizer is highly flammable because it is made primarily of alcohol. Some of the hand sanitizers being made during this pandemic may be reaching higher alcohol concentrations and thus significantly increasing the risk of fire or explosion. The flash point or temperature that makes a substance flammable for most hand sanitizers is 60-70°F or 20°C which is room temperature, so they do not need a significant heat source to become flammable. To ignite hand sanitizer, you need oxygen (e.g., air) and an ignition source. 

What are the health hazards of hand sanitizer?

Hand sanitizer can cause eye and skin irritation. Hydrogen peroxide is found in many ethanol-based hand sanitizers and is incompatible with many substances (e.g., organic material, caustics, some acids). It is corrosive to the skin and may cause eye irritation. There is also evidence that using large volumes of hand sanitizer in confined spaces can cause respiratory irritation.

What is the risk to me from hand sanitizer?

The main risk from hand sanitizer is the potential of fire when storing large quantities like in the workplace or where it is manufactured. If you are storing more than 5 Gallons of hand sanitizer on site, you need to follow the safety guidelines into your local fire code or the NFPA flammable and combustible liquid code. Storing this volume or flammable liquids means keeping them away from heat, sparks, open flames, hot surface and static discharge.

Can hand sanitizer explode if left in a hot car? 

You need vapours emitted from hand sanitizer to connect with an ignition source and an ignition temperature over 700°F or 300°C. A flame can ignite the vapours but this likely would not occur in a car.

What are the benefits vs. risk of using hand sanitizer?

The benefits outweigh the risk of using hand sanitizer, especially when water for hand washing is not available. Hand sanitizer evaporates quickly once applied. It is essential for disinfecting and sanitizing during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Ensure you are following best practices for storing flammable and combustible liquids if you have large quantities onsite.  Increasing ventilation can help if people develop sensitivity to the smell. Handwashing is still considered the best practice for disinfection.