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Hand Sanitizer Use in the Workplace and at Home

The NIH Fire Marshal recognizes that hand sanitizer has become an important part of the daily routine in the workplace and at home, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly when washing hands with soap and water is not possible. The CDC recommends using hand sanitizer containing at least 60% ethanol or isopropanol, which means that hand sanitizer is more flammable than liquor. A small amount can burn extremely hot and clean, with little smoke and flame visible.Here is a video on hand sanitizer flammability: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8KZ3JviMNFc&feature=youtu.be.

To address the hazards of hand sanitizer, the fire code has provisions on the safe storage and use to minimize the fire risk. These include:

  • Individual fluid dispensers cannot exceed 1/3 gallon in corridors and 1/2 gallon in rooms.
  • Dispensers mounted on walls must not be above or directly adjacent to ignition sources such as electric outlets and light switches.
  • Dispensers must be at least four feet apart.
  • Storage greater than 5 gallons would require containers to be in a metal flammable liquid cabinet or in an area protected by an automatic sprinkler system.

Additional precautions include:

  • Do not use hand sanitizer near any open flames.
  • Personal size hand sanitizer containers can safely be stored in a vehicle. The material will not ignite spontaneously, but can ignite if exposed to an ignition source. Always, make sure the hand sanitizer has evaporated before, for example, lighting a cigarette.Hand sanitizer can ignite by static electricity such as touching a metal object with wet sanitizer on hands. For example, static electricity buildup occurs after you sit in your car while fueling. To avoid this, be sure to ground yourself by touching the plastic pump handle before touching the nozzle. Another is the spark we all experience using light switches in dry weather. Always, make sure the hand sanitizer has evaporated first.

Here is a video on the fire safety considerations of hand sanitizer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xMO6jC9KOW0&feature=emb_logo If you have any questions regarding these hazards, please contact the NIH Fire Marshal at 301-496-0487 or use the fire hazard reporting tool: https://www.ors.od.nih.gov/ser/dfm/Pages/Community-Complaint-Report.aspx. You may remain anonymous when reporting a hazard, but it always helps to have a contact so they can obtain information as needed.

NOTE: the second video in this PSA and the guidance on hand sanitizer in vehicles were updated based on more recent guidance from the National Fire protection Association.

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