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The History of Hand Sanitizer

The primary ingredient in hand sanitizer is alcohol; most brands contain somewhere between 60% to 95% of either isopropyl or ethyl alcohol mixed with water and gels. The concept of using alcohol as an antiseptic isn’t new – it’s been around since at least the late-1800s. However, the origins of hand sanitizer are somewhat unclear as there are a number of claims to the invention. One version of the story has a nursing student named Lupe Hernandez creating the first hand sanitizer in 1966 by combining alcohol and gel so that doctors in emergency situations could clean up before treating patients. However, a recent investigation didn’t turn up any records of Hernandez’s early invention. Another version of the story gives the credit to the German company Hartmann, who claims their product Sterillium, which debuted in 1965, was the “first marketable alcohol-based hand disinfectant." Yet another story gives the credit to Goldie and Jerry Lippman, a married couple who developed a waterless hand cleaner way back in 1946 as an alternative to the harsh hand-cleaning chemicals often used by rubber plant workers. They called their product Gojo; it was a made from a mix of petroleum jelly, mineral oil, and less than 5% alcohol. Gojo is still used today by auto mechanics who need to remove grease and oil from their skin. Perhaps more significantly, the company branched out in 1988 when they invented Purell, which is primarily made from about 70% ethyl alcohol mixed with propylene glycol. Due to low demand at the time, Purell wasn’t released to consumers until 1997. GermX was released by Vi-Jon Industries that same year. Updates to hand washing guidance from the CDC in the early 2000s helped to popularize hand sanitizer with the public, and sales really spiked in 2009 during the H1N1 swine flu. Today, Purell and GermX are highly recognizable brands and many people consider their products a necessity, especially in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.

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