Back in the spring, when the coronavirus turned into a pandemic, there was a natural rush to keep hands clean.

This inevitably caused a surge in demand for hand sanitiser that left shelves empty and people in a panic about how to kill the bacteria and viruses on their hands.

As a result, governments, manufacturers, and distillers got busy with boosting supply. The hand sanitiser shortage was averted – but at a price. Much of the new hand sanitiser products smelt really bad.

“I personally had never experienced bad-smelling hand sanitizer [until recently]. I went into my local CVS yesterday, and they had a gallon pump jug of sanitizer just inside the door. I used some and it smelled like those cowhide pieces that my dogs used to chew on!” said Pamela Dalton, a senior scientist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia.

The difference between the hurriedly made product and the hand sanitisers made before the pandemic was clear.

“Our workplace uses Purell in dispensers placed every 20 feet,” notes Dalton, “and it smells neutral”.

The problem arises from a short cut that less reputable hand sanitiser producers take when manufacturing their products.

“That off-putting smell—sometimes described as rotten garbage or tequila-like—is the natural byproduct of ethanol being made from corn, sugar cane, beets, and other organic sources,” explains Bryan Zlotnik of Alpha Aromatics, a perfume manufacturer which specializes in additives used to hide unpleasant odours in sanitizers. “[Ethyl alcohol] production is highly regulated. It stinks because these new brands—many made by distillers who’ve pivoted from producing drinking alcohol to meet public demand for hand sanitizer—are making and using denatured ethanol. This ethanol costs significantly less than ethanol filtered using activated carbon filtration, which would typically remove almost all contaminants and the malodor with it.”

The reason that denatured ethanol is such a popular choice is because it is cheaper to produce than ethanol which has been filtered using activated carbon filtration. This filtration system is an added cost but is part of the process that removes strong smells and contaminants.

Examples of denaturants that may be found in sanitizers include ketone, methyl ethyl ketone, acetone, and denatonium.

Another denaturant that may be found in hand sanitiser is methanol, however according to the US food and drug administration, “Methanol is not an acceptable ingredient for hand sanitizers and must not be used due to its toxic effects.”

Denaturants may also be added to hand sanitisers to deter people from drinking them.  

Of course, there is one other clear advantage of using stinky hand sanitiser – people are less likely to touch their face or put their fingers in their mouths if they don’t smell good.

“The malodor is a potent behavioral message to keep our hands away from our face, which is something we should be doing anyway,” notes Dalton. “While I normally do not want my hands to smell like a farm, it certainly did keep me from putting my hands anywhere near my face - and that could be a good thing!”

The flip side is that, will your family use a hand sanitiser that smells bad? Probably not, which is what your hand sanitiser should have a neutral or pleasant fragrance.

If you want to buy hand sanitiser that is strong enough to be effective against coronavirus but don’t want the bad smell, then visit AG PROTECT.

Photo credit: Fatoba Tolulope Ifemide from Pexels, Max Fischer from Pexels, RODNAE Productions from Pexels, & Jules D. on Unsplash