Using Alcohol-Based Disinfectants And Sanitizers With Children

Is It Safe To Use Hand Sanitizer On My Baby?

Washing with soap and water is best, but most alcohol-based sanitizers are fine to use on young children as long as you handle them with care.

Use just a pea-size amount and rub your child’s hands until they’re completely dry so they don’t try to lick or swallow any gel, then store the bottle safely out of reach.

Why the caution? The alcohol content in most hand sanitizers is 60 to 70 percent – the minimum amount needed to kill germs, which is almost twice as much as vodka or other hard liquor. It evaporates off the skin almost immediately, but you want to make sure your child doesn't get hold of a bottle of sanitizer and try to drink it.

Are Alcohol Wipes A Safer Option For My Child?

You'll also want to be careful with sanitizing wipes. Babies and toddlers can suck on them and swallow alcohol, so don't leave wipes anywhere your child can get to them. Also, be sure you’re using sanitizing wipes to clean your child, not the disinfecting wipes made by Clorox or Lysol that are for surfaces.

Note that sanitizers and wipes don’t work as well as soap and water on dirty or greasy hands, and they don’t work well on certain germs like norovirus.

Finally, they can irritate or dry out the skin (and will sting if used on even the tiniest cut). So it’s fine to use them when you're out and about but try not to rely on them too much.

CDC Child Exposure To Hand Sanitizer Chart

A More Kid-Friendly Option

Alcohol-based sanitizers that use ethyl alcohol (the kind in wine and liquor) may be safer than the ones that use isopropyl alcohol (the kind in rubbing alcohol). Isopropyl alcohol is a very effective germ-killer but it’s also more toxic.

Also, it's best to avoid brands with scents, dyes, or glitter. Fragrances often contain phthalates or other toxic chemicals, and scents can make the sanitizer more tempting to lick.

As for alcohol-free sanitizers? Try to avoid them unless you're absolutely certain on their efficacy.

Some sanitizers use an ingredient called benzalkonium chloride (BAC). It works for far longer than alcohol, so it’s often used in hospitals. But it’s not the best choice for home use because BAC can be irritating to the skin and eyes, and even small amounts can be toxic. What's more, bacteria can become resistant to it over time.

A few brands rely on essential oils alone to kill germs. The ones that use thyme, oregano, or lemon oils can work against certain germs, but these oils are also skin irritants and are best avoided on babies. Relying on essential oils as a main means of sanitizer is a contentious issue, however there is some science to back it up.

What Age Can Kids Start Using Hand Sanitizer?

Hand sanitizer can be a safe way to clean young children's hands, if they are supervised and not able to ingest it. Kids are notorious for getting messy, dirty and picking up germs on their hands.Kids are also notorious for their curiosity, which is often the cause of childrens' negative experiences with alcohol-based sanitizers.

The major worry when it comes to giving your kid hand sanitizer is about their tendency to put everything in their mouths for reasons only they can understand. A bottle of 80% alcohol sanitizer can be deadly in the hands of a curious kid, so the question becomes, "What age is it OK to give my kids alcohol-based sanitizers to stay safe?".

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), hand sanitizer should be kept out of children's reach and parents should supervise any child ages five and under who use hand sanitizer. Of course, some kids are born older than their years and understand the danger that hand sanitizer can pose to them.

If in doubt, talk with your child and explain the science behind ingesting alcohol-based sanitizers.

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