A picture of a rusty hand sanitiser dispenser with the caption: “A picture says a million words. POISON” has been shared hundreds of times on Facebook.
The image seems to imply that because dripping hand sanitiser has damaged the stand, it can’t be good for human hands. Although hand sanitiser should not be ingested, it does not pose a risk when used on hands.
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What’s happened in this picture?
The picture appears to show a rusty stand. Rust happens when a ferrous metal—which is one that contains iron, for example steel—reacts with water and oxygen.
Alcohol-based hand sanitisers, including the Purell product in the image, also contain water, which can cause ferrous metals like steel to rust.
We don’t know exactly what this specific stand is made of, although one online review says the pole is made of metal. Similar stands are made of stainless steel. Although stainless steel contains chromium which means it doesn’t rust as much, it can rust in some circumstances or be corroded in other ways.
After frequent use, enough hand sanitiser might drip on to the base to cause rusting or other degradation. It is also possible that something other than hand sanitiser caused this stand to rust.
We have asked GOJO Industries, which makes Purell, what they think has happened in the image.
None of this means hand sanitiser is poisonous or harmful to skin. Water obviously isn’t, and the 70% alcohol content in Purell isn’t going to poison you through skin contact either. Most modern hand sanitisers contain emollients to protect against skin irritation.
Besides washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, using a hand sanitiser with a minimum 60% alcohol content is the next best way to kill any Covid-19 virus on your hands.
However, it is true that they are toxic if swallowed and doing so could be fatal, particularly in children.