Hand sanitizers - Its quality and availability

Dr T Tiakaba Jamir
Chemistry Department, Kohima Science College, Jotsoma

With the increasing number of covid-19 infected cases and in the absence of vaccine, maintaining proper hand hygiene at all time become one of the basic measures to prevent and to fight against the virus. And to achieve this, use of alcohol based hand sanitizers has become one of the important components. Quality hand sanitizers and its availability in the market at a reasonable rate are very essential for the people to fight against this covid-19 pandemic. Recently, it has been reported in some advanced countries where fake products of hand sanitizers were flooded in the market risking thousands of lives. There could be many products whose main aim is to profit more by using an adulterated alcohol or substandard which may not contain the requisite alcohol concentration high enough to inactive SARS-CoV-2. Many hand sanitizers without the presence of necessary active medical grade ingredients might be found in the market from time to time. We need to ensure the use of quality hand sanitizer keeping in view the bitter experience about the quality issue in the last two to three months in some other advanced state and country where a number of sanitizers manufactured and sold were found to be misbranded, substandard, adulterated with toxic substance like methanol, etc 

The guidelines issued by WHO for manufacturing alcohol based hand sanitizer recommend the formulation of isopropyl alcohol IPA (2-propanol) or ethanol (ethyl alcohol) with at least 70% as active ingredients along with hydrogen peroxide and glycerol with specific percentage volume concentration.

There are high chances of the presence of undeclared methanol in significant amount in hand sanitizers. One obvious reason being cheaper in price and easier availability. The unexpected presence of methanol poses a serious threat to public health since hand sanitizers now is heavily used and widely available. 

Methanol also called wood alcohol is a colorless liquid with a pungent alcohol odor. Methanol can have adverse effects such as nausea, vomiting, or headache. As per the literature reports, methanol has a weak ability to kill viruses and is less effective when compared to other alcohols. Second, methanol is much more toxic than ethyl or isopropyl alcohols, it can cause bodily harm when it comes in contact with skin, is swallowed, or is inhaled. Low amounts of methanol can be found in many household products such as in inks and dyes, adhesives, antifreeze, paint thinner, and cleaning products, as well as in some fruits and vegetables and alcoholic and non-alcoholic fermented beverages. Sometimes methanol is present in ethanol as impurity from the sources and therefore, small amounts (approx.0.5%) can be present in ethyl alcohol-based hand sanitizers or rubs. 

There are many chemical methods by which ethanol can be distinguished from methanol; smell is certainly the quickest way to distinguish ethanol from methanol. Ethanol in its original form smells quite pleasant but methanol is very irritating or unpleasant provided no scent is added to mask any telltale odors by the manufacturer. Both ethanol and methanol when reacting to fire will initially give bluish flame and as the flame starts to burn, methanol continues to burn bluish or colorless, but in the case of ethanol you begin to see some yellow-orange plumes due to incomplete combustion. They differ in smell, taste and evaporation rate but without standards and controlled conditions, errors will be made with methanol laced ethanol.

In the process of fighting against the virus, we may invite more health problems due to the possible use of adulterated sanitizer products and therefore it will be good in the interest of one’s health not to compromise the quality of hand sanitizer.