Doctors recommend washing hands with regular soap and water and to avoid anti-bacterial products (please see our FAQ about antibacterial soaps).
When a sink is not available, for cleaning hands that are visibly dirty, alcohol-based hand sanitizers are not as effective as soap and water. But, alcohol-based hand sanitizers still kill microorganisms, which makes them the next best alternative. However, they can be harmful if swallowed.
To be effective, alcohol-based hand sanitizers should contain 60 to 90 per cent alcohol. Ingesting as little as two to three teaspoons (10–15 mL) can cause a small child (20–30 lbs, or 10–15 kg) to to become inebriated. It is important to supervise children closely while these products are being used.
Absorption of the alcohol through the skin is not a concern. If alcohol-based sanitizers are used, consider the following:
- A single squirt the size of a dime is all that is needed.
- For young children, dispense the product into your own hands, then rub the surfaces of the child’s hands between yours until fully dry, usually 10–15 seconds.
- Make sure that children do not lick the wet product off their hands.
- Scented hand sanitizers, particularly those with fruity scents that may entice a child to ingest the product, should be avoided.
- Make sure that children’s hands are dry (i.e., the product has evaporated) before giving children food or drink.
- For hands that are still visibly dirty, wash as soon as possible with soap and water.
- When not in use, hand sanitizers should be kept in a secure location.