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What do I do if my child swallows hand sanitiser?

The Covid pandemic has seen a massive increase in the use of hand sanitiser. While it is very effective against spreading germs via hand contact, there is a downside to hand sanitiser being readily available in bottles everywhere.

Reports of children accidentally (or deliberately) swallowing hand sanitiser are so common now they are the second highest cause of poisoning events in childcare centres throughout NSW. The number of cases actually tripled in 2021.

The problem with hand sanitiser is that it often has a taste, smell or packaging that appeals to children. Most hand sanitisers contain a form of alcohol, mostly likely ethanol but also sometimes isopropanol.

As these are types of alcohol, the most common signs of a child having swallowed hand sanitiser are similar to them being drunk. They may be unsteady on their feet and have blurred speech. They may have nausea and vomiting or they may exhibit signs of euphoria or be disorientated, not knowing where they are.

Sweet smelling breath is another sign they may have ingested hand sanitiser.

If they have only swallowed a small amount or just licked some off the bottle or their hands, don’t panic. Most cases are mild and can be managed from home without major intervention.

First off, immediately call the Poisons Information Cente on 13 11 26 and they will advise you what to do. Have the bottle handy so that you can read the ingredients on the label to them.

Mostly likely they will advise you to reassure the child, keep them calm and give them some sweet food or drink. DO NOT TRY TO INDUCE VOMITING. They may have an upset stomach but generally children don’t consume large amounts of hand sanitiser.

They will also tell you to closely monitor the child. If they start exhibiting extreme reactions such as their breathing becoming depressed, their heart rate going up or their blood pressure or temperature falling, do not hesitate to call 000 for an ambulance.

The Poisions Information Centre (PIC) will liase with the ambulance service about your case if you tell 000 you have been speaking to them or you tell the PIC you have called an ambulance.

Remember, you know your own child’s behaviour patterns so even though most cases of swallowing hand sanitiser are mild, if you are at all worried, don’t hesitate to call 000.

Always keep your child calm, and if they are disorientated don’t let them wander about, they could injure themselves.

The best protection of course is always being trained in first-aid so if you are a first-time parent and would like to learn first aid for yourself, please visit


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