Do you have the right information about products advertised as sanitizers or disinfectants? - Tips related to COVID-19
Since the outbreak of the new coronavirus, there has been a sharp increase in demand for alcohol sanitizers and disinfectants (including gel type products), as a result of which the products are now thinly distributed at drugstores. When searching for products advertised as sanitizers or disinfectants on Internet shopping sites, we can find such products containing various ingredients. Some of the products are described to consist mainly of methanol, which is highly toxic to humans. Some others are advertised as if it can be used for disinfecting hands and fingers although ingredients not suitable for disinfecting hands and fingers are labeled.
In general, sanitization ("jokin" in Japanese) means to chemically and physically remove unwanted microorganisms. Targets to be removed and the removal rate are not officially defined. On the other hand, disinfection ("shodoku" in Japanese) means to kill or detoxify harmful microorganisms. Disinfection of hands and fingers falls under the category of efficacy of pharmaceutical and quasi-pharmaceutical products. Therefore, disinfecting ingredients are only allowed to be used for pharmaceutical and quasi-pharmaceutical products.
Concerning liquid products advertised as effective for sanitization or disinfection which were questioned by consumers, NCAC decided to collect information on their typical ingredients: alcohols, sodium hypochlorite, hypochlorous acid water, quaternary ammonium salt and chlorine dioxide, and to share the findings with consumers.
Sampling of inquiries and complaints
PIO-NET1 has received numerous inquiries related to COVID-19. These inquiries include 837 inquiries about products advertised as effective for sanitization or disinfection2 registered through the end of April 2020. According to the monthly breakdown of inquiries about the products, the number of inquiries was 3 in January, 67 in February, 375 in March and 392 in April 2020.
- 1 PIO-NET is a database that collects information on inquiries concerning consumer affairs by linking NCAC with local consumer affairs centers and similar organizations across Japan via an online network. The above data includes inquiries registered through April 30, 2020. Inquiries referred from local consumer affairs centers to NCAC are not included.
- 2 The above inquiries are those about products in the form of liquid, gel, spray or sheets that are advertised as sanitizers or disinfectants and about products that consumers expect to have such an effect (excluding devices such as air purifiers) registered with PIO-NET.
- I was recommended to use methanol for disinfection at a pharmacy. I bought it, but later I returned the product. I think the attitude of the pharmacy staff is questionable.
- (inquiry from a man of uncertain age in March 2020)
- I bought alcohol hand gel, which I thought effective against the new coronavirus. I'm concerned if the main ingredient benzalkonium chloride is effective against viruses in general including the new coronavirus.
- (inquiry from a man in his 60s in April 2020)
- In order to prepare against viruses, I bought an alcohol product advertised as a sanitizer on an online shopping site. Later I found that its alcohol concentration was very low and the product was ineffective against virus infection.
- (inquiry from a man in his 60s in April 2020)
- It seems that a shop is using hypochlorous acid for disinfection as a preventive measure against COVID-19. I'm concerned if it has negative effects on humans.
- (inquiry from a woman in her 50s in April 2020)
Ingredients contained in products advertised as sanitizers or disinfectants
- Alcohol disinfectants normally contain 70% ethanol. Methanol is highly toxic to humans and should never be used for disinfecting hands and fingers.
- Sodium hypochlorite is used as an ingredient in household chlorine bleach. When using sodium hypochlorite to disinfect things around you, wipe with a cloth soaked with 0.05% sodium hypochlorite solution and then wipe with a damp cloth. Never spray sodium hypochlorite solution.
- Hypochlorous acid water is produced by electrolysis of hydrochloric acid or salt solution. It's still under evaluation whether hypochlorous acid water works effectively as a disinfectant against COVID-19.
- Quaternary ammonium salts including benzalkonium chloride and benzethonium chloride are used as active ingredients for disinfectants as pharmaceutical or quasi-pharmaceutical products. It's still under evaluation whether quaternary ammonium salts work effectively as a disinfectant against COVID-19.
- It has not been validated whether chlorine dioxide works effectively as a disinfectant against COVID-19.
Advice for consumers
- Washing hands gently with running water and soap is effective for eliminating the new coronavirus from hands and fingers. If washing hands is not possible, apply 70% ethanol solution to hands and fingers, which is also expected to be effective. It is not necessary to use alcohol solution after gently washing hands with running water and soap.
- If you want to disinfect things around you such as dishes and door knobs, wipe with a cloth soaked with 0.05% sodium hypochlorite solution and then wipe with a damp cloth.
- Before buying or using products advertised as sanitizers or disinfectants, carefully check ads and product labels to find out which ingredients are contained, to where the product can be applied, if it is necessary to dilute the product, and so forths.
- Methanol is highly toxic to humans and should never be used for disinfecting humans. When using highly concentrated alcohol, which is combustible, avoid open flames and ventilate your work area.