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Sanitized: Online listings for hand sanitizer, disinfectant advertise inflated prices

Online listings for hand sanitizer, disinfectant advertise inflated prices, and experts say some of the products aren't as effective as recommended by the CDC.

By: Rachel DePompa & Jamie Grey

Originally Published: March 12, 2020

(InvestigateTV) – $50 for a bottle of hand sanitizer? It’s been advertised with prices that high in multiple places because people are trying to make a buck off of the COVID-19 coronavirus.
Around the country, businesses, health care facilities and even places of worship are preparing and stocking up on sanitation supplies. Hand sanitizing stations have become a new standard.

“The first thing that we did was make sure all of our entrances to our church we have hand santizer available in dispensers,” said Pastor John McCard with St. James’s Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia.

“When people have that visibility they’re more likely to increase their hand washing,” said Diana Marks, the executive director of Poet’s Walk Assisted Living Facility.

Unfortunately, shelves nationwide are empty, and stores are rushing to restock. If you turn to the internet, some prices are eye-popping.

For example, GermX- is normally $2.66 at Walmart. But one eight-ounce bottle sold for $24 on Ebay. A 12-ounce bottle of Purell sold for $25. There were numerous other listings, some for as high as $80.

Ebay said it is trying to crack down on the price gougers. The online marketplace told sellers it’s rejecting listings for masks, hand sanitizers and disinfecting wipes.

InvestigateTV did find broken links where Ebay stopped some sales.

Amazon also said it’s trying to remove listings with inflated prices. Most products just appear out-of-stock.

Some states are working to crack down on price gouging.

For example, in Missouri, the attorney general is warning that state law “prohibits individuals and businesses from substantially raising their prices for the necessities of life during an emergency.”

“Unfortunately right now this is what we’re seeing. The prices are escalating,” said Eleena Bower with HCA Healthcare in Virginia. She has 25 years’ experience as a registered nurse and 15 years in infection prevention.

“The best way to protect yourself is to wash your hands with soap and water, but there are times when you don’t have access to soap and water,” she said.

She said hand sanitizers are useful this time of year, but you have to buy the right kind of product.

“The CDC recommends that we use an alcohol product. It should have at least 60% alcohol or above, so 60% to 90% is really what they’re requiring,” Bower said. “Because the alcohol is the one thing that will kill the [virus].”

There is evidence people are buying the wrong products, she said. Among the items being snatched up in this consumer frenzy are “alcohol-free” sanitizers and wipes.

For example, some vendors on Amazon were selling Wet Ones antibacterial hand wipes for as much as $119 on March 4, according to the price-tracking site keepa.com.

On the back of the product it lists benzalkonium chloride as the active ingredient. But the Centers for Disease Control says hand sanitizers or wipes without 60-95% alcohol may not work as well for many types of germs.

“If you don’t have that level of alcohol, it will not kill the [virus],” said Bower.

Neither Wet Ones nor its parent company Edgewell Personal Care responded to InvestigateTV’s requests for comment before publication.

Hand washing is still your best bet, but if you supplement with sanitizer, be wary of high prices and report them to your state’s attorney general.