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The pandemic has impacted our lives in more ways than we can number. Perhaps one way that it has affected most people is the increased use of hand sanitizer. It can help to keep you safe, but you probably notice it smells horrible.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the shelves of the stores were quickly stripped of all cleaning supplies and sanitizers. Manufacturers and distilleries got busy to help overcome the shortage. Some of the new brands that were created are different from the Purell or Germ-X that you are likely already familiar with it. Those new options often had a strong smell.

The reason why hand sanitizers often have a smell similar to tequila is that it is a natural byproduct of an included ingredient. Included in the hand sanitizer are some ingredients that kill the coronavirus and other germs, including ethanol, or ethyl alcohol. A report from New York Times’ Wirecutter pinpoints those ingredients as being the reason the hand sanitizer smells so strongly.

Photo: Pixabay

Most of the sanitizers on the market today use ethyl alcohol or some type of substitute that is closely related.

Bryan Zlotnik is a representative for Alpha Aromatics, a fragrance manufacturer. According to Fox News, he says: “That off-putting smell – sometimes described as rotten garbage or tequila-like – is the natural byproduct of ethanol being made from corn, sugar cane, beets, and other organic sources.” He also said that many of the newer options on the market for hand sanitizers use denatured ethanol.

Denatured ethanol is a popular choice because it is lower-priced and is favored by manufacturers in comparison with ethanol filtered using activated carbon filtration. Typically, activated carbon filtration would remove strong odors and contaminants.

Denaturants included in sanitizers include methanol, acetone, methyl ethyl ketone, and denatonium. According to the US food and drug administration, those denaturants make it less appealing to ingest. That has the added benefit of keeping people from touching their face.

Fox News further reported that a representative of Monell Chemical Senses Center, Pamela Dalton, said: “The malodor is a potent behavioral message to keep our hands away from our face, which is something we should be doing anyway. While I normally do not want my hands to smell like a farm, it certainly did keep me from putting my hands anywhere near my face-and that could be a good thing!”

The US Food and Drug Administration has issued a warning about the existence of toxic methanol in some hand sanitizers. Shoppers should familiarize themselves with that list and check the basic ingredients before making a purchase.