A few months ago, when the novel coronavirus outbreak first hit the world, panic buying led to millions of bottles of hand sanitizer flying off shelves all the way from Miami to Mumbai.
In light of these, questions have been raised on the effectiveness of a hand sanitizer after its expiry date.
According to an Indian Express report, hand sanitizers contain more than 70% ethanol, therefore sugar mills with their in-house ethanol plants were the first to diversify into production of hand sanitizers.
Ethanol is more than 99.95 per cent pure alcohol and a by-product of sugar production and mills sell this to oil marketing companies as a fuel additive.
Prices of these products had skyrocketed in those months, which forced the central government to put them in the list of 'Essential Commodities' items to prevent hoarding. Manufacturers increased their production capacity to meet the demand.
Hand sanitizers slowly become less effective after their expiration date.
The claim is misleading.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), mandates that over-the-counter drugs must state an expiration date unless data reveals that they are stable for more than three years.
However, the organisation also states that it does not have information on the stability or effectiveness of drug products beyond their expiration date.
What Makes Sanitizer Effective?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) sanitizers with an alcohol concentration between 60–95% are more effective at killing germs than those with a lower alcohol concentration or non-alcohol-based hand sanitizers.
On the other hand sanitizers without 60-95% alcohol only reduces the growth of germs rather than kill them outright.
When And How Does Hand Sanitizer Expire?
A report by Insider says that Hand sanitizer expires, usually around three years after its printed date of expiry.
The reason behind the product expiring beyond a certain date is that its alcohol content dissolves over time. Once it reduces below 60% alcohol, it won't be as effective at killing germs.
It is noteworthy to mention that if it is not opened yet, hand sanitizer may still have some effectiveness.
Reportedly, the manufacturer estimates the time it'll take for the percentage of the active ingredient to drop below 90% of the percentage stated on the label. That time estimate then becomes the expiration date.
The CDC maintains that Soap and water are more effective than hand sanitizers at removing certain kinds of germs. Despite alcohol-based hand sanitizers being capable of inactivating many types of microbes very effectively when used correctly, people may not use a sufficient amount of the product or may end up wiping it off before it has dried.
Therefore, hand sanitizers should be used as a secondary option to hand-washing only when soap or water is not available. These are also deemed to be less effective at getting rid of germs after they've been opened and their expiration date has passed.
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