Ethyl Alcohol vs Isopropyl Alcohol in Hand Sanitizer?

Guardian hand sanitizer, 80% alcohol, liquid and gel sanitizer, ppe, Daily Face Masks 99% BFE

What is the difference between ethyl alcohol vs isopropyl alcohol? Isopropyl Alcohol, also known as IPA or Isopropanol, is a synthetic alcohol made from propene which is derived from crude oil.  Most know isopropyl alcohol as the household rubbing alcohol.  Isopropyl alcohol is the precursor to acetone and is used in nail polish remover, paint solvents, as gasoline additives, in rocket propellants, in cleaning compounds such as hand sanitizers and in pharmaceutical intermediates.  Isopropyl alcohol is a listed chemical for use by the FDA.

On February 12, 2020, there was a large explosion at an Exxon facility in Baton Rouge that shut down their isopropyl alcohol production for several months.  Isopropyl alcohol became short in supply and the pricing skyrocketed by 2-4X.  A few months later the world needed a large supply of hand sanitizer due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Isopropyl alcohol pricing was outrageous and hand sanitizer manufacturers began looking for an alternative for alcohol. Ethyl alcohol, also known as ethanol, jumped in as the most economical and readily available replacement alcohol.  The FDA had already approved ethanol for use as a hand sanitizer.  Manufacturers reached out to some of the largest producers of ethanol – alcohol distilleries and fuel additive producers.  Ethanol producers take corn, wheat, hemp, sugarcane or other types of natural starting materials, cook it down to starch and sugar, and add yeast to ferment the end product into ethanol.  

While many distilleries and fuel additive producers switched gears to produce ethanol for hand sanitizer, it became key to control the amount of methanol in the ethanol to make sure it met FDA standards for hand sanitizer.  Methanol is a small by-product when distilling ethanol.  When producing, it is important to have the right distillation column and plates to separate out the methanol from the ethanol.  Most producers of ethanol for hand sanitizer and drinking alcohol have this particular equipment and control in place to make sure that the methanol limits within the ethanol are below USP grade limits (< 200 ppm/0.02%).

Methanol is the simplest and lowest cost alcohol to produce.  There are over 40 billion pounds of methanol produced annually. Methanol is used as a precursor for other commodity chemicals like formaldehyde, acetic acid and others.

The FDA list of hand sanitizers that contained large amounts of methanol is a list of brands where manufacturers used methanol in place of ethanol or isopropyl alcohol.  These sanitizers were made of up to 70% methanol.  The assumption is that because the cost of methanol is much lower than the cost of ethanol and isopropyl alcohol, the hand sanitizer manufacturers on the FDA list of dangerous hand sanitizers used methanol in order to save money.

Guardian only uses ethanol that is produced to the highest quality and will continue to do so under our FDA NDC Codes following the WHO recommendations.  With that being said, if isopropyl alcohol prices become reasonable again, then we may consider manufacturing hand sanitizers with isopropyl alcohol.

Link to our blog post – Why Are Hand Sanitizers Being Recalled By The FDA? What Is Safe Sanitizer?