Coronavirus causes sanitizer shortage, price gouging

Purell shortage at CVS, Walmart and on Amazon boost sales for store brands

Stores are getting cleaned out of hand sanitizer.

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Americans are hunting for alternatives to Purell as the hand sanitizer becomes increasingly sold out at retailers like CVS, Walmart and on Amazon with the ongoing spread of the novel coronavirus. And some store brands are seeing a surge of sales because of it.

Hand sanitizer is selling out at retailers across the country. 

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Third-party sellers on Amazon are marking up the price of an 8-ounce bottle of Purell, which retails for around $3.49, between $44.95 and up to $119.99 for a pack of two and as much as $200 for two 33.8-ounce bottles when FOX Business checked the site on Tuesday. Nearly all of Walmart’s hand sanitizer products are sold out online. Amazon said it removed more than 1 million products for violating its price gouging policies, but a number of listings are still posted on the e-commerce site.

A pack of two pump bottle of Purell was selling for $119.99 on Amazon Tuesday.

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Amazon, Walmart and Purell's parent company Gojo did not immediately return a request for comment.

Hand sanitizer sales were up 73 percent as of Feb. 22, compared to the same period last year, according to market research firm Nielsen as reported by the Associated Press. As a result, consumers are seeking out store brands. First aid brand Welly sold online and at Target stores, has seen a 367 percent increase in its hand sanitizer refills during the past week and a 48 percent increase in its sales of first aid kits that contain hand sanitizer, the brand confirmed to FOX Business Tuesday.

"We were fortunate to have additional inventory in our distribution centers to support the initial spike in demand," Doug Stukenborg, CEO and co-founder of Welly said. "We are shifting hand sanitizer packets that we had on hand at our co-packing facility to focus on the items in highest demand in the short-term, such as our Clean Hands Refills."

TickerSecurityLastChangeChange %
CVSCVS HEALTH CORPORATION58.12-1.21-2.04%
TGTTARGET CORP.92.12-0.85-0.91%
WMTWALMART INC.113.49-0.13-0.11%
AMZNAMAZON.COM INC.1,927.80-21.92-1.12%

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The company said it has tripled its production including products like its first aid kits that include the hand sanitizer packets.

Stores across the country are selling out of sanitizer products. A Duane Reade employee at a store located in Midtown Manhattan said Tuesday the store sold out of its hand sanitizer products on Monday and flu-related products have been on backorder. Shelves, where products like sanitizer wipes are typically stocked were bare, and travel-sized bottles of sanitizer were also sold out.

An empty shelf where sanitizer products like wipes and sprays are kept was empty at a Duane Reade store in New York City Tuesday. (Photo by Jeanette Settembre)

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The sale surge comes as cleaning product companies race to boost production with growing demand. Health officials advise washing hands frequently with soap and hot water for at least 20 seconds to protect against the coronavirus, the pneumonia-like disease which is spread largely by touching an infected surface. Doctors have urged people to avoid touching their face, mouth and hands, and have also recommended using alcohol-based hand sanitizers when they're not near a sink to use soap and water.

Travel-sized Purell products were also sold out at a Duane Reade store in Midtown Manhattan. (Photo by Jeanette Settembre)

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The CDC says, however, that hand sanitizer does not kill all germs and agency officials advise reading product labels to ensure it contains at least 60 percent of alcohol.

There were more than 91,300 confirmed coronavirus cases worldwide, and at least 3,110 deaths reported as of Tuesday.

A number of brands have come under fire by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for making fraudulent coronavirus prevention and treatment claims since the outbreak occurred. Purell claimed its disinfectant spray was defective against a strain of the human coronavirus,” however, the FDA warned the company’s maker, GoJo, last month to stop claiming the hand sanitizers were effective at eliminating diseases like norovirus, MRSA and the Ebola virus.

Cleaning products at a Duane Reade in Manhattan's Midtown neighborhood were sold out Tuesday. (Photo by Jeanette Settembre)

Other brands have donated free products amid shortages at drug stores. Bravo Sierra, a wellness brand, partnered with American nonprofit charity United Service Organization, to offer free anti-bacterial wipes to active service members when they pass through airport lounges such as JFK, LAX and Newark Liberty International Airport with plans to expand to other U.S. cities.

Health officials advise against making hand sanitizer at home with an influx of DIY recipes surfacing online Tuesday. If it is made wrong, the product can be dangerous.

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