Is your hand sanitiser a dud?


The outbreak of COVID in South Australia highlights the importance of hand sanitisers. But are they what they cracked up to be?

The source of the outbreak in South Australia was a cleaner who contracted COVID-19 "via a surface". This highlights the importance of good hygiene and the need to keep up the use of preventative measures, such as hand sanitisers. 

However, if you read the contents information on that bottle of sanitiser, would you be any the wiser about its effectiveness?

Consumer organisation CHOICE says sanitiser labelling is woefully inadequate and in need of urgent reform.

The claims of 30 supermarket sanitisers were analysed, after CHOICE conducted its own alcohol content spot test earlier this year. Nearly half of the sanitiser products analysed lacked key information, including information like the percentage of alcohol in products, making it difficult to buy products that meet World Health Organisation standards for sanitisers.

“Hand sanitiser standards and labelling in Australia is a confusing mess,” CHOICE Health Campaigner Dean Price said.

“Right now, companies can call non-alcoholic gel products “hand sanitiser” even when there’s no good evidence these products offer effective protection against viruses. These dud “sanitisers” can sit on the same supermarket shelves as genuinely effective options. We need better labels to help people find sanitisers guaranteed to protect them and their families.”

CHOICE is calling on the federal government to fix sanitiser labels with better regulation and to resource spot checks to make sure the sanitisers on the market actually protect people against viruses.

Nearly half of the sanitiser products analysed lacked key information, including information like the percentage of alcohol in products.

Australians can join CHOICE’s call for strong sanitiser standards at  CHOICE.com.au/handsanitiser 

Equally as disturbing is the result of a survey finding widespread confusion amongst Australians about the quality, effectiveness and monitoring of hand sanitiser products. Poor labelling information is blamed for the confusion.

CHOICE surveyed 1,013 people aged 18-70 and data was weighed to represent the Australian population.

Sixty-six per cent either didn’t know or incorrectly believed alcohol free sanitisers would protect them from COVID-19, highlighting a major information gap that could leave Australians buying products that won’t protect them.

The survey found:

  • 59 per cent of people believe that hand sanitisers sold in Australia are required by law to state the percentage of alcohol they contain on the label (they aren’t)
  • 49 per cent of people believe that hand sanitisers sold in Australia are required by law to contain a certain amount of alcohol (they aren’t)
  • 74 per cent of Australians trust sanitisers sold in supermarkets and chemists are effective against COVID-19 (CHOICE says this high level of trust matched with poor information and labelling means people may buy ineffective products).

Sixty-six per cent [of people surveyed] either didn’t know or incorrectly believed alcohol free sanitisers would protect them from COVID-19.

"Messy" hand sanitiser labels - a comparison


CHOICE is calling for the Australian Government and Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar to urgently:

  • Implement a national labelling standard for sanitiser products so that only products known to be effective against viruses can use the term “hand sanitiser.”
  • Resource regular spot checks of sanitiser products to ensure they have enough alcohol to be effective against COVID-19. 

These measures would then allow the ACCC to issue fines to businesses that fail to comply with the standards.

"These are simple actions the federal government can take right now to ensure safe and effective sanitisers are being sold to Australians. Even outside of the context of a global pandemic, we must set a higher standard for essential health products,” Dean Price said.