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Is Your Hand Sanitizer Toxic? Infectious Disease Specialist, Dr. Alao Discusses Methanol Poisoning and Hand Sanitizer Safety Tips


The coronavirus pandemic has made hand hygiene top of mind and when soap and water isn’t available, we reach for hand sanitizer. In a rush to make hand sanitizer for the masses, some companies added chemicals that are toxic when ingested or potentially when absorbed through the skin.

Infectious Disease Specialist, Oladipo A. Alao MD, MPH, FACP, discusses everything you and your family need to know about methanol poisoning. Remember, it’s a good idea to check all hand sanitizers before purchase to rule out containment of any toxic ingredients.

Hand Sanitizers and Methanol Poisoning: Why Should You be Concerned?

The emergence of SARS-CoV-2 virus, the cause of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has caused us to give increased attention to disinfection practices which have been promoted to reduce its transmission. Hand hygiene has been one of the most important components of infection control. When soap and water are not available, use of alcohol based-hand sanitizers containing a high percentage of ethyl alcohol (60% or more) or isopropyl alcohol (isopropanol; 70% or more) is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in community settings.

It’s important to note that all hand sanitizers are not created equal. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates hand sanitizers, has determined that some hand sanitizers are actually toxic and have been found to contain methanol. Methanol is not an acceptable ingredient and has forced the FDA to recall several hand sanitizer products that contain methanol. Please check the list of recalled hand sanitizers to make sure you are not using any of these items: 

What Are the Risks Associated with Hand Sanitizers Containing Methanol?

You should never swallow hand sanitizer because it is toxic when ingested. Swallowing hand sanitizer that contains methanol can cause methanol poisoning. Children might swallow these products unintentionally and some people may even be consuming these products intentionally. Methanol poisoning from absorption through the skin is rare, but can occur in unusual circumstances depending on how much was applied, how long the substance was in contact with the skin, and size of the skin area exposed. 

What Are the Symptoms of Methanol Poisoning?

Methanol poisoning can cause symptoms such as headache, blurred vision, vomiting, seizures, loss of coordination, loss of consciousness, and can ultimately be fatal. Survivors of methanol poisoning can suffer from serious long-term effects such as permanent loss of sight.

What Can You Do To Prevent Methanol Poisoning?

The most important thing to do is to check if a product you have is listed on the FDA website above. If so, the product needs to be disposed of in a hazardous waste container, not poured down the drain. Hand sanitizers should be kept out of the reach of children and children should not use hand sanitizer without adult supervision.  Again, hand sanitizers, regardless of ingredients, are dangerous when ingested and should never be swallowed.

If you or someone you know has been exposed to a hand sanitizer product containing methanol, stop using it immediately and if you experience any symptoms, you should seek immediate medical attention.

Take Safety Precautions, Not Risky Ones

As the coronavirus pandemic continues, we have to take increased safety precautions, but they shouldn’t be risky to our health in other ways. Make smart choices when purchasing hand sanitizer and cleaning products and only use as directed. You should never ingest hand sanitizer, cleaning products or any other product not intended for consumption.


Oladipo A. Alao MD, MPH, FACP, is a Fellowship-trained Infectious Disease Specialist and earned his Medical Degree from College of Medicine University of Ibadan in Ibadan, Nigeria. He completed his Residency in Internal Medicine and Fellowship-training at Harlem Hospital Center in New York, NY. Dr. Alao is Board Certified in Infectious Disease and Internal Medicine and has clinical interests in HIV and travel medicine. He is providing care to patients in West Nyack.



Yip L, Bixler D, Brooks DE, et al. Serious Adverse Health Events, Including Death, Associated with Ingesting Alcohol-Based Hand Sanitizers Containing Methanol — Arizona and New Mexico, May–June 2020. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. ePub: 5 August 2020.