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CHOICE investigation: More popular hand sanitisers put to the test

Our follow-up test of another batch of hand sanitisers yields mixed results.

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Last updated: 18 November 2020
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Checked for accuracy by our qualified fact-checkers and verifiers. Find out more about fact-checking at CHOICE.

Need to know

  • Another hand sanitiser tested by CHOICE fails to contain the recommended quantity of alcohol to be effective
  • 27 products tested in the latest batch contained more than the 60% alcohol many authorities suggest consumers should look for
  • Government says the ACCC is finalising a new information standard to improve the safety of hand sanitisers

A third round of CHOICE testing has delivered mixed results about the effectiveness of hand sanitisers.

In July we found that a hand sanitiser from clothing company Mosaic Brands contained just 23% alcohol content, even though it was labelled as containing 70% alcohol. In September, we published results of testing on another 29 products, all of which passed. 

But now a second product has failed our testing for the minimum required alcohol content.

Hand sanitiser testing round 3: What we found

Following publication of our second round of testing results and thanks to donations from more than 300 CHOICE members and supporters to help fund the tests, we commissioned Australia's National Measurement Institute (NMI) to test another batch of locally bought hand sanitisers for alcohol content. 

This latest test has yielded mixed results.

On the one hand, we can add another 27 products to the list of hand sanitisers that consumers can use with the assurance that they'll offer some protection against COVID-19, especially when washing your hands is not an option.

But unfortunately one product we tested, White Knight Hand Sanitiser 500ml, failed to meet the 60% threshold.

The recommended minimum alcohol content for effective hand sanitisers ranges from 60% to 80%, depending on the type of alcohol. The WHO standard is 80% ethanol or 75% isopropyl alcohol. Australia's Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) calls for at least 60% alcohol.

White Knight Hand Sanitiser: Another product failure

White Knight Hand Sanitiser (500ml bottle) is the second hand sanitiser we've tested that has failed to meet the 60% alcohol content needed to effectively disrupt the virus envelope. It contained only 52% alcohol, despite its label claiming 75% alcohol. 

Like the other products we tested, this sample was bought online (we purchased it from pharmadeal.com.au), but we know that this product is also sold at United Petroleum petrol stations.

We contacted the distributor of the product, White Knight Sanitation Pty Ltd, an associated company of United Petroleum, to ask them for comment. They told us that the product was manufactured by Teddie Group Pty Ltd, who had been contracted to produce White Knight's hand sanitisers. 

The White Knight Hand Sanitiser 500ml bottle contained only 52% alcohol, despite its label claiming 75% alcohol

In their response they stated that they had immediately withdrawn the product from sale in all United Petroleum outlets and were conducting urgent testing of the product. They also told us they had previously cross-checked the volume of ethanol supplied against sanitiser produced by the manufacturer, and found it was consistent with the information provided by the maker. They also spoke to Teddie Group after learning of our results, who stood by their claim that the product contains at least 75% alcohol.

"White Knight's response is what we expect to see and we thank the companies involved for taking the matter seriously," says Dean Price, senior campaigner at CHOICE. 

Government says new standard is close

CHOICE is calling for better regulation of hand sanitisers sold in Australia. 

The Australian Government has an opportunity to ensure that hand sanitisers are effective. We believe they should act quickly to ensure that:

  • hand sanitiser contains at least 60% alcohol
  • labels are easy to understand
  • spot testing happens to make sure the label on the bottle matches the contents.

At the moment, most of these products aren't required to contain a minimum amount of alcohol to ensure they're effective against COVID-19. As we've seen through our testing, without stronger regulation on hand sanitisers, there's little to stop companies selling ineffective products. 

But in good news for consumers, it seems that the government is taking heed. Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar, who has responsibility for the Australian Consumer Law, has been working on this issue. We approached him for comment in light of these latest results. 

The ACCC is finalising a proposed new information standard to improve the safety of hand sanitisers and provide consumers with a clearer understanding of the product they choose

Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar

"The Morrison government takes the safety of Australians very seriously. The ACCC is finalising a proposed new information standard to improve the safety of hand sanitisers and provide consumers with a clearer understanding of the product they choose," he says. 

"The new standard will require hand sanitiser products to disclose alcohol content on product packaging and include safety warnings.

"Further, the ACCC is investigating allegations that some hand sanitiser suppliers have made false or misleading claims about alcohol content. The government expects suppliers to provide safe and effective hand sanitiser products, in appropriate packaging, with relevant warnings at all times," he adds.

Other problems with hand sanitiser

Beyond simple failure to meet the alcohol levels needed for a hand sanitiser to be effective, we've also identified problems with the way the information regarding alcohol content is provided, with some brands providing alcohol concentration in weight/volume, others weight/weight and others volume/volume. Without guidelines, this can make it difficult to know whether a product meets the recommended concentration of alcohol.

Other problems include inappropriate packaging that could increase the risk of ingestion, and mixtures of different kinds of alcohol (ethanol and isopropanol) which again make it difficult to know whether a product will be effective. CHOICE hopes that the new standard will also address these issues. 

We're calling on the government to help stop dodgy hand sanitiser being sold in Australia and need your help. Please add your name to our petition and help stop the sale of products that fail to provide the protection they promise.

Hand sanitisers in the time of COVID-19

Among the many disappointing practices by businesses large and small we've been tracking during the COVID-19 crisis, the marketing and sales of some hand sanitiser products have been especially troubling.

Price gouging on essential items and panic marketing is bad behaviour. Selling products that promise to protect you against a deadly virus when they won't is far worse.

In the midst of a shortage of quality hand sanitisers that would be effective against the coronavirus pathogen, many retailers who hadn't previously sold sanitiser jumped into the market.

Price gouging on essential items is bad behaviour. Selling products that promise to protect you against a deadly virus when they won't is far worse

Some amped up the advertising on products that wouldn't actually protect you, such as alcohol-free hand sanitisers

Some appear to have acted in good faith in their efforts to bring more product to market. The distilling industry, for instance, repurposed itself in some cases from makers of whisky, vodka and gin to makers of alcohol-based hand sanitiser.

According to deputy president of the Australian Distillers Association Cameron Syme, the industry produced products that met the World Health Organization (WHO) standard of 80% ethanol, with hydrogen peroxide, glycerol and distilled or boiled water.

Then there were businesses that weren't so conscientious, in particular the women's clothing retailer, Mosaic Brands.

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