Do Hand Sanitizers Protect Allergic Children?

Published: September 3, 2013

Q: My child’s school insists hand sanitizers are adequate for cleaning up children after eating. But to protect allergic children, don’t they need to use soap and water?

Dr. Sicherer: Antibacterial gels and foams do not remove debris from hands, they only kill germs. These sanitizers will not remove milk, peanut or even dirt from hands.

This was studied in an experiment with adults who applied peanut butter to their hands. Their hands were tested after various types of cleaning procedures. The sanitizers did not remove all of the peanut protein. Neither did a simple water rinse.

However, wet wipes or soap and water worked very well. If a child with allergies gets their avoided foods on their hands, the advice would be to use soap and running water, if available, otherwise use a wet wipe.

Dr. Scott Sicherer is Chief of the Division of Allergy and Immunology of the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York. Together with Dr. Hemant Sharma, Associate Chief of the Division of Allergy and Immunology at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, he writes “The Food Allergy Experts” column in the U.S. Edition of Allergic Living magazine. Questions submitted below will be considered for answer in the magazine.

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