Hand Sanitizers Can Cause Falsely High Breathalyzer Results

Hand sanitizers can cause breathalyzer results to give falsely high blood alcohol concentration (BAC) readings. Thus people who administer breathalyzer tests can accidentally raise BAC readings if they use hand sanitizers. This can be a serious problem, especially in hospital. In most medical settings, people generally use hand sanitizers many times a day. These liquids and gels commonly contain alcohol (ethanol) as the major ingredient.

Researchers studied the effects of hand sanitizers used by those who test for alcohol in the breath. Ten individuals volunteered for the experiment. The testing machine was the Alco-Sensor III. The U.S. Department of Transportation and law enforcement agencies approve its use.

The researcher first tested each volunteer’s breath for alcohol. None yielded a positive reading for alcohol. That is, they showed a BAC of 0.000. Next, the researcher used a 70% ethanol hand sanitizer. He then conducted a second breath test on each volunteer.

sanitizers can causeAfter using the hand sanitizer, the tests produced a BAC reading of about 0.15. That’s almost double the legal limit of 0.08. The breath tester yielded false positive results for several minutes after use of hand sanitizer. Even when gloves were used, the device still registered the presence of alcohol.

Law enforcement officers or healthcare provider should not use hand sanitizers containing ethanol before giving an alcohol breath test.


Source for Hand Sanitizers Can Cause High BAC Results

Emerson, B., et al. Effects of alcohol-based hand hygiene solutions on breath alcohol detection in the emergency department. Am J Infect Control, 2016, 44(12), 1672–1674.


Readings for Hand Sanitizers Can Cause High BAC Results

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Emadi, A., and Coberly, L. Intoxication of a hospitalized patient with an isopropanol-based hand sanitizer. N Eng J Med, 2007, 356, 530-531.

Miller, M., et al. Does the clinical use of ethanol-based hand sanitizer elevate blood alcohol levels? A prospective study. Am J Emerg Med, 2006, 24(7), 815-817.