You may have heard about people drinking hand sanitizer to get drunk or get a buzz. Is it safe? What are the effects? Here are the answers!
Drinking Hand SanitizerA typical 240 ml container of hand sanitizer gel contains comparable alcohol to 5 shots of hard liquor. It's hard to say when drinking hand sanitizer came into vogue, but reports of its use as an intoxicant with prison inmates started surfacing around 2009. Recent trends, mainly practiced by teens, include mixing hand sanitizer with Listerine to make a strong minty cocktail, mixing the gel with salt to separate the alcohol from the gel and distilling the alcohol from hand sanitizer. Drinking the resulting cocktail is called hand sanitrippin', getting a hand sanity fix, getting drunk on Mr. Clean's Tears or getting hand sanitized.
Chemical Composition of Hand SanitizerThe problem here is that there are different types of alcohol that may be used as the disinfectant in hand sanitizer and only one of them isn't deadly poisonous! Methanol is not used in hand sanitizer because it is toxic and is absorbed through skin.
Hand sanitizer containing isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol) is used in hand sanitizer. While it is not absorbed through the skin as much as methanol, this alcohol is toxic and will damage your nervous system and internal organs if you drink it. Possible effects may include blindness, brain damage and kidney and liver damage. These effects may be permanent, plus it's possible to die from drinking this chemical. Although rubbing alcohol is not good to drink, it's unlikely a person would be able to tell the effects apart from those caused by drinking grain alcohol. Drinking isopropyl alcohol initially causes intoxication, slurred speech, blurred vision and dizziness.
Hand sanitizer containing ethyl alcohol (ethanol or grain alcohol) theoretically could be drunk, except it may be denatured. This means the alcohol has purposely been adulterated to make it undrinkable. Back in the days of Prohibition, denaturing agents included arsenic and benzene. Modern denaturing agents range from toxic chemicals to non-toxic, foul-tasting chemicals. The problem is that you can't tell from the label what denaturing chemical was used.
Hand Sanitizer Ingredient ListWhen you read a bottle of hand sanitizer, you'll likely see ethyl alcohol listed as the active ingredient, usually around 60%, which is equivalent to 120-proof liquor. In comparison, straight vodka is only 80-proof. Other ingredients (inactive ingredients) include benzophenone-4, carbomer, fragrance, glycerin, isopropyl myristate, propylene glycol, tocopheryl acetate and water. Some of these ingredients are harmless; others are toxic. Of this sample list, the fragrance is the additive most likely to cause problems. You can't tell the composition of the fragrance and many common scents derive from petrochemicals.
Can You Drink It?You can, but the bottom line is that you shouldn't! Even if the label lists ethyl alcohol as the only active ingredient, it's unlikely that alcohol is in a drink-able form. Plus, the other ingredients may be toxic. Yes, it's possible to distill alcohol from hand sanitizer, but you'll likely have a low-purity (contaminated) product.
However, the main risk of drinking hand sanitizer isn't from the toxic chemicals, but from the extremely high alcohol content. Most people who are hospitalized from drinking hand sanitizer get there because of alcohol poisoning (overdose). The alcohol content is so high that it is easy to drink a dangerous amount of alcohol before feeling the initial effects.
ReferencesPrisoner "Drunk on Swine Flu Gel", BBC News Online
Isopropyl Alcohol Material Safety Data Sheet, ScienceLab.com
Isopropyl Alcohol, BDH.
MSDS for Benzophenone-4, Spectrum Chemicals.
Learn MoreHomemade Hand Sanitizer Recipe
Is It Okay To Drink Distilled Water?
Hand Sanitizer Health Hazards
Hand Sanitizer Handheld Fire Project