Are Hand Sanitizers Really Safe?

With recent concerns over H1N1 and other flu viruses, many people have turned to hand sanitizers to safeguard their homes and offices. The question is, do they really work and how safe are they?

The first point that must be noted in regards to sanitizers is that they were never intended as a complete replacement for washing. If a person’s hands are filthy, hand sanitizer alone cannot penetrate all the dirt and grease required to properly clean.

Another important point that must be emphasized is that in order to get the benefit of the sanitizer, the individual must use the same discretion as he or she would when washing – that is, the sanitizer must be thoroughly rubbed into all surfaces of the hand and let dry to achieve maximum effectiveness.

While automatic sanitizer dispensers obviously have their advantages in that they reduce cross contamination in not having to actually touch the unit itself, any system is only as good as its weakest link. If faucets, trash container lids and bathroom door handles are not thoroughly cleaned, the result will undo the benefit of having an automated dispenser. The same holds true for kitchen faucets and sinks which are actually a greater source of bacteria in many cases.

Likewise, the type of sanitizer used in a dispenser can greatly impact its effectiveness. Before investing in a touch-free dispenser, always make sure the manufacturer recommended sanitizer is at least 60% alcohol. medical-grade

Aside from how well sanitizers work, the issue of safety is also important to consider. Since hand sanitizers usually contain ethyl or isopropyl alcohol, discretion may be necessary when used with children. In some cases, kids and particularly toddlers have been known to drink the liquid or lick their hands after dispensing. Some schools require adults to administer the sanitizer but even this won’t prevent kids from nail biting and licking (especially if too much is applied or the sanitizer type doesn’t dry fast enough to be monitored). Thus a sanitizer with 90% alcohol content though more effective, also brings increased risk. Sometimes the attractive packaging, sanitizer color and scent may actually be a lure for trouble. For this reason, foaming sanitizer formulas have the advantage of drying quickly.

It is also important to know that hand sanitizers should not be used on open wounds. Moreover, it doesn’t take much imagination to see the potential hazard in storing highly flammable alcohol-based products in hot cars or around other heat sources.

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