Can Hand Sanitizer Make You Fail the Breathalyzer?

by | Nov 29, 2017 | Criminal Defense, DUI |

It can – but not in the way that you might think.

Your own use of an alcohol-based hand sanitizer is extremely unlikely to affect the breathalyzer/ Datamaster result in a SC DUI case.

But, the officer’s use of an alcohol-based hand sanitizer prior to administering the breathalyzer can cause false positives or error messages from the machine.

How does this work and why?

Your Own Use of Hand Sanitizer is Not Likely to Affect the Breathalyzer Result

An Australian study in 2006 demonstrated that use of a 70% alcohol hand sanitizer 30 times over a one-hour period caused only a slight elevation in breath alcohol levels – between 0.001 percent and 0.0025 percent.

These results are from tests that were performed one to two minutes after the final hand sanitizer use. Ten to 13 minutes later, all subjects’ breath alcohol levels had returned to zero.

A New York state representative was convicted of drunk driving in a Virginia court in 2008. At his trial, a defense expert testified that he had used hand sanitizer earlier in the day and that this affected his blood alcohol content (BAC). The defense was unsuccessful, and he was convicted of DUI.

It is extremely unlikely that a person could absorb enough alcohol through their skin to affect a breathalyzer reading. But, what if the person is handling the mouthpiece for the breath test after using hand sanitizer?

The Officer’s Use of Hand Sanitizer Can Affect the Breath Test

Another recent study showed that when breath-test operators used hand sanitizer, rubbed their hands until dry, unwrapped a disposable mouthpiece, and then held it for the test subject as they blew into the machine, 10% of the test subjects gave a positive test result despite being completely sober. Another 31.5% of the tests resulted in error codes on the machine.


The breath test is designed to detect alcohol from the deepest part of the lungs. The breath-alcohol result is then multiplied by an arbitrary, one-size-fits-all number that is supposed to provide the blood alcohol content (BAC).

If the alcohol that is causing the positive result is located in or near the mouthpiece, as opposed to in the deepest part of the lung, that final number is going to be inflated every time.

The source of contaminating alcohol could be hand sanitizer on the officer’s hands. It could also be alcohol that remained in the mouth trapped by a tongue ring or dentures. It doesn’t matter – the final number will be hopelessly skewed.

It could result in a ridiculously inflated BAC result, or it could result in a false positive when the person has no alcohol in their system.

Can I Get My DUI Dismissed if the Officer Used Hand Sanitizer in the Breathalyzer Room?

To determine whether the police made mistakes in your DUI case, we first need to obtain the videos and other evidence in your case. There are many common mistakes that officers make that may result in your case being dismissed when we find them and bring them to the prosecutor’s attention, including failure to read Miranda rights at the scene of the arrest, failure to videotape the arrest and field sobriety tests, and others.

Use of alcohol-based hand sanitizer by the officer does not legally require dismissal of your case, but it should result in suppression of the breathalyzer result, which in turn may result in dismissal, an offer of reduced charges, or an easier acquittal at the trial of your case.

You can schedule a free consultation to discuss the facts of your case with a Myrtle Beach DUI lawyer by calling (843) 488-5000 or filling out our online form.


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