Is your hand sanitiser really effective?

Pet owners and dog walkers are being urged to take care when buying hand sanitiser. It comes after one major brand was allegedly found to have such low levels of alcohol that it was essentially useless.

Consumer group CHOICE issued a statement on 15 July alleging that AIR Clean Instant Hand Sanitiser had failed to live up to the alcohol strength claimed in its marketing and packaging.

Following multiple community tip-offs, CHOICE decided to analyse the hand sanitiser sold by Mosaic Brands at its various fashion stores, including:

• Autograph
• Beme
• Crossroads
• Katies
• Millers
• Noni B
• Rivers
• Rockmans
• W.Lane

“‘AIR Clean Instant Hand Sanitizer’ sold by Mosaic Brands has been withdrawn from sale. This is following a CHOICE investigation and an independent lab test that found a sample of the product had an alcohol content of only 23% – well below the amount of alcohol required to be effective,” the group’s director of campaigns, Erin Turner, said.

So what’s the problem?

According to the consumer advocacy group, the sanitiser in question is labelled as having an alcohol content of 70%.

“In the COVID-19 context, ineffective sanitiser is a major public health risk. In order to be effective, a hand sanitiser must have enough alcohol. It’s very worrying that CHOICE has found a hand sanitiser sample with only 23% alcohol, when it should have between 60 and 80%, depending on the formula,”

Erin Turner, CHOICE group

Ms Turner added that “as a result of our spot-check on this Mosaic sample, CHOICE is now conducting further testing of sanitiser available across Australia. We have also referred Mosaic to the regulators to determine if this is a one-off issue with a small batch or something more concerning”.

She welcomed Mosaic’s decision to withdraw the product from sale and conduct further tests themselves, suggesting that “this is the responsible course of action given the risks involved”.

However, 7 News reported that Mosaic Brands has rejected the findings.

“We have testing documentation from the supplier that shows the alcohol content of the hand sanitiser is not in line with CHOICE’s claim,” it quoted the company as saying in a statement.

“We believe that CHOICE’s insistence on publishing the article today is purely to generate sensationalism and is irresponsible as it risks alarming buyers of the product unnecessarily.”

Of course, only time will tell whether the product was actually up to scratch.

Not the first concerns about sanitiser strength

Regardless of whether Mosaic Brands’ sanitiser was as strong as claimed, it is not the first time that the effectiveness of hand sanitiser has been questioned.

NSW-based Signature Mouthguards told My Business in May that many imported sanitisers were not strong enough to be effective against COVID-19.

The business pivoted its operations to make hand sanitiser locally during Australia’s COVID lockdown in March 2020. However, it said that pharmacies and retailers were focused on imported sanitisers because of their lower cost. This is squeezing out local makers producing higher strength sanitiser.

Why are clean hands important for dog owners?

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we all need to take extra precautions to avoid catching and spreading the virus. That includes cleaning our hands regularly – especially when we are out in public. For dog owners, this includes when:

  • opening gates at the dog park
  • putting poop in bins
  • pressing the button to cross at traffic lights when out on walks
  • stopping at shops or cafes with our dog

But it isn’t just because of coronavirus. Dog owners should ALWAYS maintain good hand hygiene. That is because dogs, their poop and the environment can contain a lot of nasty germs, viruses and parasites.

“Even if you’re using all the right [parasite] preventatives, you can never be sure. Dogs like to lick their own butt and they lick their paws after walking through dirty puddles. They can pick up E. coli and Salmonella, which can make you pretty sick. Even the raw meat and bones they eat can have bugs that cause food poisoning in humans.”

Dr Alison Moran of Mona Vale Veterinary Hospital.

Then of course there are intestinal worms which humans can easily catch from infected dogs or their poop.

REMEMBER! Hand sanitiser is toxic to dogs if they swallow it. Always allow your hands to dry completely before you touch your dog, and never leave hand sanitiser in places your dog may get hold of it.

So what should you look for when buying hand sanitiser?

“Not all hand sanitisers are the same,” Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) states on its website.

“The effectiveness of an alcohol-based hand sanitiser depends on the amount of alcohol in the formulation. Look for a formulation of at least 60% alcohol in these products.”

However, the World Health Organisation formula for alcohol-based sanitisers recommends an even stronger alcohol content, containing either:

  • 80% ethanol (i.e. alcohol) with 1.45% glycerol and 0.125% hydrogen peroxide; or
  • 75% isopropyl alcohol with 1.45% glycerol and 0.125% hydrogen peroxide

The Paws N’ All hand sanitiser is manufactured to the first standard with 80% ethanol, and was made in Australia by Bathurst Grange Distillery.

Are alcohol-free sanitisers effective?

When it comes to alcohol-free sanitisers, the advice from the Australian Department of Health is pretty clear:

“There is no evidence that alcohol-free hand rubs are effective against viruses like COVID-19. Experts recommend you don’t use them.”

For more information about hand sanitisers and pets, see Paws N’ All’s Guide for dog owners during COVID-19.

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