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Hand sanitisers: Information for consumers

31 August 2020

The information on this page is intended for consumers who wish to understand more about buying and using hand sanitisers amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. If you are seeking to manufacture, supply, or advertise hand sanitisers, see Hand sanitisers: Information for manufacturers, suppliers and advertisers.

Soap and water is most effective for hand washing

The Department of Health recommends that you use soap and water wherever possible, but hand sanitiser where soap and water may not be available. Further tips on good hand hygiene during COVID-19 are available on the Department of Health website.

How hand sanitisers work

Hand sanitisers contain antiseptic ingredients. An antiseptic is a substance that is used on the skin to kill microorganisms or prevent the growth of microorganisms.

Hand sanitisers can be either hand washes for use with water or handrubs for use without water. The way these products are regulated depends on how they are used, what they contain, and what they claim to do.

Appropriate use of hand sanitisers

You should always follow the directions for use located on the label of all hand sanitiser products.

For products regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), the directions for use have been approved based on test data. You can tell if a product is regulated by the TGA by looking for an AUST R number on the label.

Homemade hand sanitisers for your own use are not regulated by us. The TGA is unable to endorse the use of homemade products since we cannot confirm their safety, quality and effectiveness.

It is important to remember that handrubs used without water may not work well when hands are visibly dirty, therefore, handrubs should only be used when hands are visibly clean or when soap and water is not available.

Things to consider when buying hand sanitisers

There are several points to consider when buying hand sanitiser.

Look for formulation details

Not all hand sanitisers are the same. The effectiveness of an alcohol-based hand sanitiser depends on the amount of alcohol (e.g. ethanol or isopropyl alcohol) in the formulation. Look for a formulation of at least 60% alcohol in these products.

If you are buying a product that states it is using the World Health Organization (WHO) formula, it should have 80% ethanol or 75% isopropyl alcohol.

Hand sanitiser packaging

Consider the type of container before buying

If you are using hand sanitiser around young children, avoid buying it in containers that could be mistaken by young children to contain food or drink. Hand sanitisers can be dangerous if ingested.

Be careful if buying online

If you buy hand sanitisers online, be careful. They may not do what the advertiser claims and may contain different ingredients to what the advertiser claims.

Watch out for inappropriate claims

The TGA enforces restrictions on the types of claims that are allowed to be made on the labels and in promotional material for hand sanitisers that are regulated by us. For example, the label or an ad for a hand sanitiser cannot claim to help reduce the transmission of the coronavirus or prevent COVID-19 unless it has been approved for those claims.

If a hand sanitiser claims to be "suitable for use in medical and health services", it must either be regulated by the TGA, or it must meet specified formulation, manufacturing, labelling and advertising requirements. As mentioned above, hand sanitisers that are regulated by the TGA will have an AUST R number included on the label.

If a hand sanitiser claims to kill specific organisms (e.g. E.coli or viruses), it is required to be regulated by the TGA and assessed for safety, quality and effectiveness. If a hand sanitiser makes these claims and it does not have an AUST R number on the label, it is likely to be an illegal product that has not been assessed by the TGA.

If you have concerns about an advertising claim for a hand sanitiser, you can submit a complaint through the TGA's online advertising complaints form.