Fire safety precautions needed with hand rubs

Fire safety measures should be used when installing dispensers or storing alcohol-based hand rubs, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises.

Concerns about fire hazards arose after CDC altered its hand hygiene guidelines to recommend the use of hand rubs, which are effective and less irritating to the skin than repeated hand washing.

When hospitals began installing hallway dispensers with the new products, some encountered restrictions from their local fire marshals, who told them they must be moved.

Survey found no fire incidents

A survey of 798 hospitals using the alcohol-based hand rubs nationwide found no instances of fires related to the products. Eighty-one percent of those facilities had placed dispensers in patient rooms, 89% in treatment rooms, and 61% had placed them in hallways.1

While the risk of fire related to the hand rub dispensers appears to be low, the CDC recommends these precautions:

  • Health care personnel rub their hands until the alcohol has evaporated (i.e., hands are dry).
  • Alcohol-based hand rubs should be stored away from high temperatures or flames, in accordance with CDC and National Fire Protection Agency recommendations.
  • Supplies of alcohol-based hand rubs should be stored in cabinets or areas approved for flammable materials.

The CDC notes that national fire codes "permit hand rub dispensers in patient rooms, but prohibit their installation in egress or exit corridors." Local or state fire codes may have additional requirements.

"Health care organizations are encouraged to install dispensers in patient rooms, treatment rooms, suites, and other appropriate locations [not in egress corridors]," the CDC states.

"Health care facilities should work with local fire marshals to ensure that these installations are consistent with local fire codes," the CDC adds.


1. Boyce JM, Pearson ML. Low frequency of fires from alcohol-based hand rub dispensers in health care facilities. Infect Control Hosp Epidemiol 2003; 24:618-619.