How To Safely Store Hand Sanitizer | Muse Health

Health     Hand Sanitizer   Storage   

Hand sanitizers are one of the most powerful tools at our disposal in the fight against COVID-19. With them, we can flatten the curve, prevent vulnerable people from getting infected, and, hopefully, reduce the disease's burden. They provide a convenient means by which people can disinfect their hands while on the go, slowing the rate of transmission.

Sanitizers, however, require proper storage because of their high alcohol content. Both ethanol (sometimes called ethyl alcohol) and isopropanol (isopropyl alcohol) are highly flammable, creating a potential fire hazard.

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Why Use Alcohol In Hand Sanitizers?

Hand sanitizers are high in alcohol. Ethanol-based products are 60 percent alcohol or more, while those using isopropanol contain 70 percent alcohol or more.

Established fire codes classify sanitizers that contain high levels of alcohol as flammable liquids. Thus, it is critical to purchase these products from approved vendors only. Do not attempt to make your own.

Please note that not all hand sanitizers use alcohol as an active ingredient. However, many public health professionals prefer compounds like ethanol and isopropanol because there are no known instances of microbial adaptation. Unlike antibiotics, researchers believe that it may be safe to use these products liberally over the long term to control the spread of infection.

In this post, we investigate how to store hand sanitizer according to fire codes.

Here’s what you need to know:

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Storing Replacement Sanitizer Liquid

Fire codes currently limit the amount of sanitizer liquid you can store on your premises at any given time. This cap reduces the size and scale of any fire that might arise by keeping too much.

Currently, the fire code allows you to store more than 100 gallons on your premises at any given time. However, the amount that you’re allowed to keep depends on your current fire-abatement systems.

Generally, the amount that you can store depends on the following factors:

  • Whether you have a sprinkler system installed
  • Whether you use a UL-listed cabinet
  • Whether you are already using flammable liquid storage in your building for research or maintenance
  • Whether the floor level is above or below grade

If you’re not sure how much you’re allowed to keep, you should consult the MyChem system, hosted by the University of Washington’s Environmental Health & Safety department. To access the information you need, you’ll require a UWNetID.

If you store more than 10 gallons of sanitizer on site, you must keep it in a flammable cabinet.

image of hands with a hand sanitizer dispenser

Using Dispensers For Alcohol-Containing Sanitizers

Fire codes also apply to the use of dispensers for alcohol-containing sanitizers (or any other flammable liquids).

General Rules For All Dispensers

Here are the rules for the safe storage of hand sanitizer:

  • Do not place dispensers within an inch of electrical outlets or switches.
  • Do not place dispensers in locations with open flames.
  • Do not put dispensers in carpeted areas that are not protected by sprinkler systems.
  • Do not use dispensers larger than 68 ounces or 2.0 liters.
  • Always place dispensers more than 48 inches apart.
  • Always place accessible dispenser units more than 42 to 48 inches above the floor.

Rules For Hands-Free Dispensers

If you use touch-less dispensers, you’ll need to observe the following requirements:

  • Dispensers must only activate to objects within four inches, not further away.
  • Dispensers must only activate once when an object is placed in the activation zone. They must not operate continuously.
  • Dispensers must only provide the minimum amount of sanitizer to be effective, usually given by the solution's manufacturer.

Rules For Dispensers In Corridors And Exit Lobbies

Dispensers in corridors and exit lobbies must observe additional requirements. Here are the rules:

  • Do not place dispensers in corridors less than 72 inches wide.
  • Do not place more than 10 gallons of sanitizer in aggregate across all dispensers in your corridors and exit lobbies.
  • Do not exceed the maximum container size of 41 ounces or 1.2 liters for any individual dispenser.

A lot of this guidance for dispensers is common sense. Public health officials recommend that you avoid placing dispensers in places where they’re likely to create a bottleneck, making it hard for occupants to exit. You should also ensure that you make your safety data sheets (SDSs) available on request.

Refilling Dispensers

Because sanitizer solution is highly flammable, you also need to exercise care when refilling dispensers.

Refills come in two formats:

  1. Free liquid you refill manually
  2. Internal plastic bags filled with liquid

Refilling dispensers that use the second method - internal plastic bags filled with liquid - is the simplest. You follow the manufacturer’s instructions for taking out the old bag and installing the new one. However, please note that it may pose a waste fire hazard if the old pack contains leftover sanitizer. Remove as much of the remaining liquid as you can before you chuck it in the trash.

Rules For Refilling Dispensers Using Free Liquid

Free liquid refills are more dangerous. Make sure that you adhere to the following safety measures:

  • Ensure that colleagues performing the refill have adequate training
  • Provide access to ABC/dry chemical fire extinguisher
  • Provide operatives with gloves to prevent irritation
  • Provide operatives with google and safety glasses
  • Ensure that an eye-washing station is available in case of splashing
  • Ensure refill containers do not exceed one gallon for ergonomic reasons

Rules For Portable Dispensers When Moving Them From One Location To Another

  • Use a chemical fume hood when dispensing more than one gallon.
  • Use grounding and bonding when dispensing more than five gallons.

Rules And Guidance For Refilling A Portable Dispenser At The Main Dispenser Location

  • Refill when the building is less occupied.
  • Clean any spills promptly.
  • Make cart spill products available.
  • Provide an eyewash station with a minimum 15-minute rinse
Image of a hand using a hand sanitizer aerosol

Aerosol Sanitizers

Finally, if you are using aerosol sanitizers, you will need to dispose of these according to local fire codes. Aerosols contain alcohol and operate under pressure, meaning that they pose additional explosion hazards when heated. The current advice is to avoid using these kinds of products where possible.