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 he doesn’t try to lick or swallow any gel, then store the bottle safely out of reach.
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.
Is there a safer type of hand sanitizer for kids?
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.
What about alcohol-free hand sanitizer?
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.Best to avoid them.
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-By Deepi Brar
Medically reviewed by Jennifer Shu, M.D., FAAP ,