Hand sanitizer: Why it should never be in your kitchen

Deanna Dewberry
Updated: January 16, 2021 11:53 PM
Created: January 16, 2021 10:02 PM

EDITOR'S NOTE | Warning: Some viewers may find this video disturbing. Viewer discretion is advised. 

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — In consumer news, News10NBC's Deanna Dewberry is taking a look at COVID-19, cleansers, chemistry, and you.

Dewberry recently interviewed the former head of the Monroe county Crime Lab, a man who has worked as a chemist for 40 years. He confirms that when used correctly, your hand sanitizer is an effective COVID-19 killer. But it has a warning you may not have noticed. It says, “flammable. Keep away from fire or flame”. 

It's a warning we should not ignore. A Texas mother of three can attest to that.

Katie Wise lives in Round Rock, Texas, a suburb of Austin. She takes COVID-19 seriously. One of her daughters is medically fragile, so she constantly cleans her hands with sanitizer. 

She did just that one day in August then lit a candle. Wise was instantly enveloped in a ball of flames and suffered burns to her face so severe doctors fought to save her sight. 

"Sanitizer is a flammable product and people don't know that," Jim Wesley, a chemist and former head of the Monroe County Crime Lab said. 

Wise’s girls survived unscathed, but Wise will endure multiple surgeries to try to repair her skin and save her vision.

"In the lab, if we had a quart or half a gallon of this stuff, it would be in a flammable, heavy-walled cabinet with a fan that vents to the outside,” Wesley said.

He explains that to kill viruses and bacteria, hand sanitizer should be at least 60% alcohol, making it highly flammable.

"Can you imagine if you had it on the counter and you were pouring it from a big bottle to a little bottle and it spilled, and there was an ignition source? Your whole house would go up," Wesley warned.

Wesley is worried and with good reason. He believes we, as consumers, mistakenly use germ-killing products interchangeably.  

Wesley placed three different types of germ-killing products on a long table. He pointed to two bottles, one of which was isopropyl alcohol. The other was hydrogen peroxide. 

"Antiseptics kill germs that are inside of you," Wesley said. For example, you'd use an antiseptic to clean a wound.

He then points to bottles of hand sanitizers as well as sanitizing wipes. 

"Sanitizers, which is all this stuff and the stuff we're talking about today, kills germs that are on you," Wesley said.

Hand sanitizers kill germs on your hands with alcohol — an effective but flammable virus killer. But the germ-killing ingredients in disinfectants are quats, which is short for quaternary ammonium compounds. 

"They are for disinfecting surfaces to keep the germs from going on you eventually," Wesley explained.

While quats kill germs on surfaces very effectively, the label warns that they should not be used on skin. Instead, you should wash your hands with soap and water after using them. 

Wesley believes only disinfectants should be in your kitchen because having hand sanitizer near your gas stove puts you needlessly at risk.

"Don't use it [sanitizer] to clean surfaces,” Wesley said. “It's tempting because it's safe in terms of non-toxic, to put some on a washcloth and just wipe the whole counter down with it. Then you're putting the alcohol in the air, and you turn on the burner on the stove, and you could have a fire."

Do you like to stock up on sanitizer when you see it? Wesley says it should be stored in a place that's cool and dry — not in your kitchen or garage. 

As for Wise, Dewberry spoke to a good friend of hers who is handling media calls for her. She says Wise will need more surgeries, and her recovery will be a long one. That friend established a GoFundMe page to help with medical expenses.


Copyright 2021 - WHEC-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company