Hand Sanitizer Should Taste Worse

If you're going to make hand sanitizer, please make it taste like garbage.
May 5, 2020, 11:00am
hand sanitizer
Photo: Getty Images

Even though a lot of us can count on one hand the number of times we've left our houses in the past several weeks (picking up a contactless pizza delivery from the front step doesn't count as 'leaving the house') we're still being encouraged to focus on hand hygiene, on washing our hands thoroughly or using alcohol-based sanitizers.

Unsurprisingly, due to increased demand it's easier to catch a stringfish (JUST ONE STUPID STRINGFISH) in Animal Crossing than it is to find a bottle of Purell right now. Companies that normally wouldn't want anything to do with our grotty little hands, like French luxury goods manufacturer LVMH, have transitioned to mass-producing the stuff, and the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) is currently allowing distilleries to make hand sanitizer without having to wait for authorization or apply for a permit. (The Distilled Spirits Council says that more than 700 U.S. distilleries are currently producing it.)


But because nothing can be simple or easy right now, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has said that it appreciates all of the manufacturers that have stepped up to make sanitizer but, going forward, it really needs to taste a lot worse.

"We appreciate industry’s willingness to help supply alcohol-based hand sanitizer to the market to meet the increasing demand for these products and are grateful for their efforts,” FDA Commissioner Stephen M. Hahn, M.D. said earlier this week. “With this increased supply comes our continued mission to ensure safety of these products. It is important that hand sanitizer be manufactured in a way that makes them unpalatable to people, especially young children, and that they are appropriately labeled to discourage accidental or intentional ingestion."

The agency says that any alcohol that is used in hand sanitizer needs to be denatured first, which requires adding a combination of chemicals to ethanol to make it taste bitter and, in the TTB's words, render it "utterly unfit for beverage use."

The FDA's concerns aren't unfounded: It obtained data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Association of Poison Control Centers and learned that there has been a dramatic increase in the number of people frantically calling their local poison control centers for help after their kid accidentally drank hand sanitizer.


The number of hand-sanitizer related calls were up by 79 percent in March compared to the same four-week period last year. It also said that "the majority" of the calls concerned children who were under the age of 5.

One of those calls involved a 13-year-old that downed some hand sanitizer made by a distillery, because it tasted like "normal" alcohol and had been distributed in a liquor bottle. The FDA is using that incident to gently chastise distillers for failing to denature their alcohol, or for not pasting appropriate "Drug Facts" labels or 'DO NOT DRINK' warnings on the side of a product that most of them never imagined making on a commercial scale.

But—say it with us one more time!—because nothing can be simple or easy right now, some distilleries have reported having a difficult time sourcing and purchasing chemicals like glycerol, hydrogen peroxide, and acetone that are used to denature alcohol. Those little bottles aren't easy to score either, and the cost of all of those components has increased due to demand too.

The FDA regulates hand sanitizers as over-the-counter drugs, and it has previously warned that they are to be kept out of the reach of pets and children, and that kids shouldn't be allowed to use them without adult supervision. The Distilled Spirits Council has also warned its members of the importance of keeping alcohol-based sanitizers away from kids, and it has made a socially shareable graphic for distilleries to use.

If that doesn't work, they could always start pouring it into Malört bottles. Nobody will drink that.