Can intensive use of alcohol-based hand rubs lead to passive alcoholization?

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2010 Aug;7(8):3038-50. doi: 10.3390/ijerph7083038. Epub 2010 Jul 30.


Hand disinfection with alcohols-based hand rubs (ABHRs) are known to be the most effective measure to prevent nosocomial infections in healthcare. ABHRs contain on average 70% by weight of one or more alcohols. During the hand rubbing procedure, users are exposed to these alcohols not only through dermal contact, but also via inhalation, due to the physical and chemical properties of alcohols volatilizing from alcoholic solutions or gels into the air. Ethanol ingestion is well known to increase risks of several diseases (affecting the pancreas, liver, cardiovascular system…), but there is a lack of knowledge about the effects of exposure to other alcohols (including n- or isopropanol) via inhalation and dermal contact, despite the worldwide use of ABHRs. This work aims at discussing possible health effects related to unintentional alcoholization (via inhalation and dermal contact) from professional ABHR usage to suggest the need for more research in this area (but not to question the value of ABHRs). Based upon an average of 30 hand rubbings per healthcare professional per day, it can be assumed that a healthcare worker may be exposed to a maximum 5,500 mg/m(3) per work shift, five times above the recommended occupational time weighted average limit. Thus, in order to answer the question posed in the title, studies on spatial and temporal variability of alcohol emission from ABHRs in real world situations and studies on certain high risk individuals are needed.

Keywords: alcohol-based hand rubs; exposure; health-care workers; indoor air; passive alcoholization.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol-Induced Disorders / etiology*
  • Alcohols / adverse effects*
  • Disinfectants / adverse effects*
  • Hand Disinfection / methods*
  • Health Personnel
  • Humans
  • Occupational Exposure


  • Alcohols
  • Disinfectants