Hand Sanitizers Can Cause Falsely High Breath Tester Results

Hand sanitizers can cause breath tests to give falsely high blood alcohol concentration (BAC) readings. Thus those who give breath tests can 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 as the major ingredient.


Researchers studied the effects of hand sanitizers used by those who test for alcohol in the breath. Ten people 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 alcohol before giving an alcohol breath test.

Hand sanitizers can also cause falsely high urine tests. For more see EtG Urine Alcohol Test Unreliable.

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, 44(12), 1672–1674.

Readings for Hand Sanitizers Can Cause High BAC Results

Doyon, S., and Welsh, C. Intoxication of a prison inmate with an ethyl alcohol–based hand sanitizer. N Eng J Med, 356, 529-530.

Dyer, D., et al. Testing a new alcohol-free hand sanitizer. ACON J, 68(2), 239, 241, 243–244, 247–251

Emadi, A., and Coberly, L. Intoxication of a hospitalized patient with an isopropanol-based hand sanitizer. N Eng J Med, 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, 24(7), 815-817.