The Great Hand Sanitizer Panic of 2020

Has anybody else seen on the news that Purell and other alcohol-based hand sanitizers have disappeared from store shelves because of panic buying?

Yeah the sudden cleanliness push, plus panic buying, plus the supply chain disruption all associated with COVID-19 have all come to an intersection right on your local store shelves.

It’s almost as if no one has ever washed their hands before now. I wonder if people are going to tell their grandchildren about that time when they had to go through an epidemic totally without fruity-scented alcohol gel to rub their hands with.

It’s gotten so bad that there was even a post on social media the other day noting that no, you cannot use 80 proof vodka as a hand sanitizer – because it’s only 40% alcohol, and it has to be a minimum of 60% to be useful against viruses. I admit that this is a piece of advice that I never thought I’d need to pass along, but there it is.

The Great Hand Sanitizer Panic of 2020 resulted in Fox News publishing an article telling you how to make your own hand sanitizer with rubbing alcohol and aloe vera gel. This is when you know things are getting ridiculous. Nevermind the fact that homebrew sanitizer is less than ideal and many experts don’t recommend it.

Naturally after reading those articles I immediately ran out to see if I could still buy 151 proof grain alcohol (purely for journalistic research purposes of course).

Purely for “research” purposes.

I was successful in my quest, but then when I looked for aloe vera just for giggles, I found the Walmart shelves virtually empty. That one lone bottle you see in the back of the shelf? That is aloe vera, but because most aloe vera is sold as a sunburn relief, it also contains lidocaine, which is a topical anaesthetic. 

For when you want your hands to be numb.

The lidocaine is not in a really high concentration, but I picture all those poor slobs who bought it to make hand sanitizer, now running in a panic to the ER because their hands suddenly feel a little numb. I can’t even face palm because I’m not supposed to touch my face.

But seriously – when you think about long term storage prepping in general, is alcohol-based hand sanitizer on your list of essential must haves? It really wasn’t high on mine. Soap, sure. Bleach, sure. But not hand sanitizer – because it’s really a single-purpose item, and I prefer to store items that are multi-use. Though I suppose you could use it as a fire starter too in a pinch.

That said, some form of high proof alcohol can be helpful to have on hand in your stash. Not just for drinking purposes (although a watermelon soaked in Everclear may help you forget your troubles for awhile), but because ethyl alcohol has so many applications. 

Storing ethanol (rather than isopropyl alcohol which cannot be taken internally) means that you can use it in many different ways. In addition to being able to consume it in diluted small quantities, Ethyl alcohol is considered to be a superior surface disinfectant to isopropyl at 70% concentration. (150 proof liquor is 75% ethanol)

Ethanol is also useful for making extracts of herbs and spices – for cooking as well as herbal medicine applications. You can drink (diluted) ethanol as a recreational beverage, do surface disinfection with it, clean/degrease with it, and even burn it in an alcohol lamp. Why buy an item that only has one purpose when you can buy and store an item you can use in multiple ways?

Now let’s see how fast high proof alcohol disappears from liquor stores.

I also feel I need to include a little disclaimer here – because people are stupid. Do NOT drink industrial alcohol, “denatured alcohol” or methanol for gawd sake. Fourteen people in Iran were apparently that stupid and died. Don’t be those people, mmkay? They got “cured” of Coronavirus – the hard and final way.

Yeah, and the hand sanitizer thing? I’ve still got some left from SHOT Show, so I’m fine. But plain old soap and water are still better.

I’m not talking specialized industrial-size bottle antibacterial soap. I mean plain old bar soap – which there’s still a ton of left at Walmart. And you might as well pick up some hand lotion too, because with all that hand washing, you are going to need it. As one who washes her hands upwards of 60 times every day for my job, ask me how I know.

I realize that won’t be as exciting to tell your grandchildren about though.

Dr LateBloomer
Dr LateBloomer is a female general pediatrician who bought her first firearm at the age of 46. She now enjoys many different shooting disciplines including self-defense, IDPA, Steel/Rimfire Challenge, Sporting clays, and even tried 3-Gun for several years. She has gotten started in hunting and has expanded into crossbow. She is a staunch supporter of the Second Amendment and works to enlighten her medical colleagues whenever possible.