Manufacture of hand sanitiser

Manufacture of Hand Sanitiser

We took the difficult decision to close our gin school at the start of the week when the prime minister unveiled his plan for how the UK was going to address the Corona virus pandemic. In essence, social isolation and quarantine.

Since that time, we have been adapting in an effort to manufacture hand sanitiser. Making hand sanitiser is easy – it’s a question of mixing some chemicals together – it doesn’t require a distillery or indeed a still and the only advantage we have is that we have the main ingredient – i.e. alcohol – in stock already. Anyone with alcohol can make hand sanitiser.

There has been a shortage of hand sanitiser and so it makes sense that anyone that has alcohol should use it to make hand sanitiser. The World Health Organisation(WHO) advises that alcohol solutions that are 70%abv or stronger are powerful germicides effective against a range of pathogens including the Coronavirus.

The WHO makes a recipe available so that anyone can make sanitiser:

Obtaining the additional ingredients was fairly easy. The legal position, however, was not so straight forward.

As a drinks distillery we have a legal responsibility to ensure that duty is collected on every litre of alcoholic beverage that we produce. This is charged at £28.74 per litre. A litre of the above recipe would therefore require duty of £20.12 to be paid to the government.

The usual way of dealing with this is to add a denaturing agent to the mix that renders the sanitiser unfit to drink. If this is done, then no duty has to be paid. However, a licence is required (IDA or TSDA1) to do this and supplies of the denaturing chemicals would be required.

While the above is not ideal, we have an even bigger problem. Whether we paid the duty or asked the customer to pay the duty the product would remain classed as a drink. And we are in Scotland. So the Alcohol (Minimum Pricing) (Scotland) Act 2012 applies and as a litre of the above recipe would contain 70 units of alcohol, we could not legally pass it onto a customer (whether for a fee or free) for less than £35 a litre!

Having checked the legal position, and confirmed it with our expert, we got in touch with our representative at HMRC who is now looking to authorise us to make sanitiser. We’ll post an update when we get a result from this.

I’m not sure if we will be authorised as HMRC (rather than dealing with small companies like us) have spent the last 3 weeks increasing the authorisation for existing hand sanitiser producers and they have added an additional 2.5 million litres to the UK market in this time. I suspect the supermarkets are going to have shelfs of the stuff very soon!

Note that we could only make hand sanitiser spray – not gel. The gel comes from China. We’re not going to see any of that for a while.

Meanwhile, there is a lot of panic just now and it is worth taking a moment to look at the science of this.

Alcohol based hand sanitiser is effective at killing germs – in the same way that washing your hands WITH SOAP is also effective. But in both cases, once your hands are dry – the sanitiser is gone. You need to regularly reapply or rewash. There are hand sanitisers on the market that last for up to 12 hours (we use these on our hands at the distillery) so it is worth keeping an eye in the shops for when these come back into stock. Also, 70% alcohol is very drying on the skin – so if you are using sanitiser then you should probably make an effort to keep your skin moisturised too.

If authorised, we intend to invite you to bring your own bottle and we will refill it with sanitiser. Hold on to your empty bottles and help save the environment while we fight this pandemic together.

We’ll be in touch when we have more – until then, stay safe!