The Formula To Sanitiser……….
What does it take to manufacturer hospital grade hand and surface sanitiser in Australia in 2020?
How deep is Australia in short supply of essential items? We couldn’t full comprehend until we decided the Meadery should double-down on our community focussed business by applying to the state of NSW to utilise some items and equipment the Meadery had in possession. Whilst on the shelves in the supermarket toilet paper, flour and pasta are a rarity, importers, suppliers and wholesalers have been left with back orders’ so large that new orders cannot be taken.
Whilst we knew we wouldn’t be large manufacturers of sanitiser, our focus was still larger than us. How can we shut down this short fall and supply something we all desperately need? After receiving our approval from the NSW government early April 2020 we starting looking for the items required for the World Health Organisations formula for killing 99.99% of germs, instantly, without water. To make this formula; 80% ethanol, glycerin, hydrogen peroxide and distilled water are the what’s required to kill 99.99% of germs. But sanitiser is different now isn’t it?
If you’ve recently purchased hand sanitiser but it wasn’t gel, more a clear, thin liquid, what does that mean? From a germ-killing perspective, absolutely nothing. Those items do as expected without any additives. In this time of crisis, a spray bottle is all you need. Spray your phones and keys after work, spray down common touch spots through-out your home, spray into your hands and rub together. Don’t have a spray bottle? You can pour a small amount on some paper towel and wipe down those items/areas. For your hands? Re-fill pump bottles or smaller purse sized bottles and apply a small amount as needed into your hands and rub together.
But the big question!
Why is it like this now? Why this new type of sanitiser…….? Where have all the pump bottles gone? Why is it a liquid now and not a gel like before? What about the aloe vera, 4 extra moisturises, added Vitamin E and hydration agents? And finally, why are we, as a Meadery, now closer to knowing more about not only sanitiser, but also cosmetics, compounding chemistry, polymers and politics? Lets’ find out.
The ingredients don't seem too difficult too get? But where’s the methylated spirits and isopropyl alcohol at the supermarkets and hardware stores to make at least something similar currently? How about something to put it into. Every single bottle, in Australia is sold out. Your usual hand sanitiser style bottles; the pump, the smaller purse size, bench size dispenser; all sold out and on back order. But sanitiser is different now, it’s liquid so lets’ look at spray bottles and other types of similar styles. Sold out. Squeeze bottles, all sold out. All on massive back orders, can’t keep up with current demand and cannot take new orders. The ability to buy a small to medium amount of any style of bottle, let’s say 250ml, 500ml, 1000ml bottles just doesn’t exist. You can buy a spray bottle or squeeze bottle online or off ebay for sure, but what about enough to do your part during these times? And this isn’t going into detail, it isn’t just spray bottles and squeeze bottles but anything that could be a substitute.
Maybe, just maybe, we found something that could work. It wouldn’t be perfect but it would get sanitiser into much needed hands. It could work however it’s fairly costly, but right now what matters is the fact we have an approved formula by the World Health Organisation to kill 99.99% of germs and nothing to put it into.
But it’s not gel………
What does it take to make hand sanitiser into a gel. Short story, polymers. There’s one in particular that’s the answer. Nothing else works. Try and try and try and try and then try some more, those long words with numbers at the bottom of the label actually do something! There are natural polymers and synthetic polymers- feel free to look up the difference because its’ deep but we’re after a certain type of synthetic polymer that we need to thicken not water or oil but extremely high alcohol concentrations. Whats’ high? 30% 50% 60% 70% 80% ?
Think solvent. Of course water is a solvent, probably the best solvent on Earth, but being an old ships captain perhaps I’m biased to the powers of water. Then there’s 80% ethanol. Have you ever had a piece of gum stick onto something; 80% ethanol would do the trick, it would do it so well you would be better off reducing it to 60% concentration. It is that efficient. And now we want turn that into a gel!
Back to polymers. Just one type. One compound needed to turn the above formulation into gel, ok thats not too bad. We’ve figured out what we need let’s order it.
Seriously, none available.
Won’t be available.
Australia has absolutely nothing. Two three months ago plenty. And reasonably priced, but now, zip, zero, zilch and on back order. Approximately 30-60 day lead time. And it’s expensive. So what do we do?
Look for substitutes. Another wormhole. Nothing quite like what we require, but possibly something that would work in a suitable fashion. Another 22 phone calls. All dead ends, sold out on back order. Now I’m starting to think. Some one, some where, bought up big. There’s honestly one polymer suitable, there’s another two that kinda work, but to order any amount to make .1 to 1% of the formula we just cannot afford it. So we look overseas to our foreign cousins, and the polymer required is available. It’s just now minimum requirements are well beyond our capabilities. Why would we ever need 25kg of one polymer when we need 25kg of honey instead. As a rough comparison 25 kgs of honey would cost between $175 to $250, whereas 25kgs of this one ingredient to make liquid sanitiser into a gel would cost us $160 a kilo. All up $4000 plus GST plus importing 25kg into the country and all the added costs.
What about alternatives: aloe vera, Xanthum gum and other natural thickening agents? Either sold out again or just not suitable to take to market. Believe us, we know; we made 6 batches trying to get something that was replicable to gel but nothing that came close. Our final trial before we called it on the gel style of sanitiser was the most successfully we market tested; it literally left your hands feeling softer, nicer and in better condition than before. It however was opaque, off white and prone to separating which needed shaking before use. The natural ingredient we used also was slightly chunky that dissolved when rubbed but still didn’t feel right. It is still sanitiser and will kill 99.99% of germs and we’ll use those trial batches around the Meadery.
So far with the investment in bottles, labels and the main ingredients, we are already starting to see why sanitiser is expensive at the moment. 12 months ago, it was a different story sure, but no one was thinking this was going to occur then. We’ve put our hat into the ring, manufacturing sanitiser for the masses as reasonably priced as we can. With the massive down turn of income from restaurants and cocktails bars, we need something to cover the rent, pay the insurance, cover our bank and merchant fee’s etc. There is no mark up for staff wages (everything was hand bottled and made) as we’ve donated our time to the cause. We literally cannot make it any cheaper without ending up in the red and truly hope the community can see that. We have a reasonable amount available but at this stage beyond the first batch we sell, we’re not sure if we will continue into the future as supply begins to meet demand once again.
We just want to help where we can.
Any thoughts, comments or questions let me know below.