Hand sanitizer has been in short supply in the US since the first cases of the novel coronavirus were confirmed there in late January, and the ingredient necessary to make an effective batch at home – namely isopropyl alcohol that’s at least 60% alcohol – has been near-impossible to find in stores or online. 

Closeup on hands of a woman applying hand sanitizer
Hand sanitizer has been at a premium since the global spread of COVID-19 began © Glasshouse Images/Getty Images

Though liquor stores can provide an appropriate DIY substitute, most bottles on the shelves don’t have a high enough alcohol content to do the trick. (Tito’s Handmade Vodka, for one, had to issue a statement discouraging the use of its 80-proof vodka in homemade formulations.) But help is coming from an unlikely source, as small distilleries and big-box brands around the world step up to fill the void. 

Swedish vodka company Absolut recently made headlines when its head of communications, Paula Eriksson, tweeted that the manufacturer could provide the alcohol necessary to meet the country’s hand-sanitizer needs, saying, “we are happy to help.” This wouldn’t be the first time Absolut helped breach a supply gap: the company produced hand sanitizer during the swine flu epidemic as well, Eriksson told the Finwire news agency.  

In Paris, Louis Vuitton’s parent company, LVMH, announced this weekend that its cosmetics department would be shifting focus to do its part to mitigate France’s nationwide shortage. "LVMH will use the production lines of its perfume and cosmetic brands ... to produce large quantities of hydroalcoholic gels from Monday," LVMH told Reuters in a statement. "These gels will be delivered free of charge to the health authorities."

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Distilleries across the US are turning their attention from booze to hand sanitizer © Infinite_Eye/Shutterstock

Stateside, an array of distilleries are taking up the cause, using the high-proof spirits they manufacture to help their communities overcome local shortages. Pennsylvania’s family-owned Eight Oaks Farm Distillery produced its first batch of house-made sanitizer this week, the AP reported Monday, and provided charitable organizations with the results. 

“We are in a national emergency,” brewery founder Chad Butters told the news agency. “What’s the right thing to do? The right thing to do is support this community by providing something that is in desperate need.”

A "closed" sign in a window covered with wire
Like most businesses in the hospitality industries, distilleries are feeling the effects of bar and restaurant shutdowns across the country © Chris McLoughlin/Getty Images

"Any distillery can do it,” Ryan Ruelos, general manager of Portland, Oregon's Shine Distillery & Grill, told Bloomberg earlier this week. 

Not only do these bootstrap operations fill a gap in the market, they also offer an additional revenue stream for businesses in the food, beverage, and hospitality industries – sectors that have been hit hard as bars and restaurants around the country shut down.

“I know I have a unique opportunity to help out a little bit and keep my staff employed,” Jeremy Elliott, co-owner of Smugglers’ Notch Distillery in Vermont, told the AP. 

In light of the current shortage, the US Food and Drug Administration has even relaxed its requirements around who can produce the suddenly scarce sanitizer, saying that as long as certain guidelines are met, the agency “does not intend to take action” against licensed pharmacists and other professionals who prepare alcohol-based sanitizers for consumer use – a policy it plans to adhere to for the duration of the public health emergency. 

The novel coronavirus (Covid-19) is now a global pandemic. Find out what this means for travelers.

Read more: 

How you can help the industries hardest hit by coronavirus

The TSA is relaxing its liquids rule for this item only

Ask Tom: Lonely Planet expert answers your pressing travel questions in light of the coronavirus pandemic

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