In a nutshell: It’s safer – and more effective – to wash your baby’s or toddler’s hands with soap and water than to use hand sanitiser. But if you’re out without access to soap and water – when you’re taking daily exercise, for example – and you need to clean your child’s hands, it’s OK to put a very small amount of hand sanitiser on them.
Do be sure that the hand sanitiser you use contains at least 60% alcohol; some hand sanitisers labelled as especially for babies and young children contain less alcohol than this (or no alcohol at all) and therefore won’t be as effective at killing the COVID-19 virus.
What our expert says about using hand sanitiser on a baby or toddler
Hand sanitisers that can effectively kill coronavirus contain at least 60% alcohol – that’s about twice as much alcohol as you’d find in vodka or whisky.
So obviously you’ll need to use hand sanitiser with care around a small child, in case they lick the liquid off their hands before it dries out or get their hands on the whole (often brightly coloured) bottle and drink it.
Inside the house, washing with soap and water will remove the virus more safely and more effectively than using hand sanitiser. But, says our expert family GP Dr Philippa Kaye, if you’re outside and your child touches something (such as a door handle or park gate) and you want to clean their hands, it’s unlikely to do any harm to use a small amount of hand sanitiser:
Why is handwashing a better option than using hand sanitiser?
Dr Philippa says regularly washing your child’s hands for 20 seconds with soap and water is preferable to using hand sanitiser. “I would say that,” she says, “that, for both adults and children, washing hands with soap and water is the best option to protect against infection.”
Coronavirus is an ‘envelope virus’, which means it has a fatty coating around it – which both proper hand washing and a hand sanitiser with a high alcohol content can break up and destroy. But, as experts at the US Centers for Disease Control
Warning! Keep hand sanitiser bottles out of your child’s reach
Hand sanitiser often come in the kind of bright colours that toddlers are drawn to but it’s important that your child doesn’t get their hands on a hand sanitiser bottle. That’s because swallowing more than a couple of mouthfuls of hand sanitiser can cause alcholic poisoning.
If your child licks or swallows just a little hand sanitiser, there’s no need to worry. But if you think they’ve had a few mouthfuls, call 111 – particularly if they have irritated eyes, vomiting, tummy ache or a cough. If your child swallows hand sanitiser and collapses, has trouble breathing or has a seizure, call 999.
and Prevention (CDC) point out, hand sanitisers don’t necessarily get rid of other germs and chemicals that could be on your hands as well.
Only hand-washing for at least 20 seconds with soap and water is effective at removing all types of germs and chemicals from hands – because as well as breaking up any fatty coatings with soap, you’re also mechanically removing them from your hands (by rubbing) and flushing them down the drain.
Dr Philippa Kaye works as a GP in both NHS and private practice. She attended Downing College, Cambridge, then took medical studies at Guy’s, King’s and St Thomas’s medical schools in London, training in paediatrics, gynaecology, care of the elderly, acute medicine, psychiatry and general practice. Dr Philippa has also written a number of books, including ones on child health, diabetes in childhood and adolescence. She is a mum of 3.