Hand sanitizer has never commanded so much attention, demand, or frequent use in our daily lives than it has over the last few weeks, leading some aquarium keepers to wonder, is it safe for aquariums? With our hands getting disinfected by this product now more than ever, perhaps several times a day, you’ve got to wonder if we should be taking any special consideration to putting our hands in the aquarium after using it.
The short answer is easy, but the in-depth answer is nothing more than a heaping tablespoon of common sense like we advocated in yesterday’s article. Whether you are washing your hands, sanitizing them, or basically doing anything that normal humans might do, you should always at least rinse your hands before putting them in your aquariums, fresh or salt.
Hand sanitizer is a simple mixture of gel, alcohol, and a very small amount of odorant like an essential oil or herbal extract. None of these ingredients is inherently toxic and there is no danger of nuking your aquarium life if you accidentally got a small amount into your aquarium – some reef aquarists deliberately add various alcohols as a bacteria-feeding carbon source!
The gel ingredient of most hand sanitizers is usually made up of Aloe Vera gel, a natural gel which itself is made up of sugars, vitamins, minerals, enzymes, fatty acids, and a profile of herbal compounds. Again none of these are toxic per se but the sugars, acids and oils might do a number on the stability of your protein skimmer foam as some of these will act as dispersants – collapsing the foam – and others will act as emulsifiers, making your skimmer overflow.
The last ingredient commonly found in hand sanitizers is sometimes an odorant to mask the alcohol smell and these trace amounts of oils may cause your protein skimmer to stop working in some time, but we doubt there’s enough residue in one hand sanitation to really have much effect. If you are frequently using hand sanitizer and then also placing your hands in aquarium waters, without first rinsing them for some inexplicable reason, the biggest side effect might be that the residual alcohols and sugars could fuel a bacterial bloom, while the oils and emulsifiers might confuse your protein skimmer.
You shouldn’t be concerned to be using hand sanitizer around the aquarium, try to use all-natural formulas with minimal additives. Also remember to keep hand sanitizers out of reach of children who might want to ‘sanitize’ the aquarium, and as always, thoroughly rinse your hands before putting them into aquarium water and you shouldn’t have anything (more) to worry about.