You may keep some in your car, or in your purse, or use some at stations posted at the entrance to most public buildings and doctors’ offices. Here’s a look at a product that’s become a regular part of daily life: hand sanitizer.
Hand sanitizer was first developed by an Ohio company called GOJO, founded in the 1940s to manufacture special soaps for industrial and factory workers that would remove tar and other substances from the hands without causing irritation. In the ’90s, a company executive was reading about the increased risk of infections in hospitals as well as a rise in food-borne illnesses—both a result of widespread ineffective hand-washing. So, in 1996 GOJO debuted Purell, a product that cleaned hands instantly without the need for soap, water, or towels. The user just squeezed out a dollop onto their hands and rubbed them together until dry.
Hand sanitizers are 63 percent ethanol, which kills almost 100 percent of the germs it comes in contact with.
Purell became an internationally distributed product in 2004 when pharmacy giant Pfizer acquired the rights, which in turn was acquired by Johnson & Johnson in 2006. In 2010, GOJO bought back the rights to the product it created.
Because it is primarily made up of tasteless alcohol—but a potentially poisonous or even deadly concentration of alcohol—manufacturers put additives in hand sanitizer to discourage consumption both accidental or intentional.
Other ingredients include isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol) and glycerin (to feel smooth on the hands).
Hand sanitizer is almost entirely different forms of alcohol…which means it’s quite flammable.
Some brands of hand sanitizers contain a trace amount of triclosan, an antibacterial and antifungal substance banned by the FDA from appearing in skin products. Why? It’s been shown to cause muscle impairment in laboratory animals.