The Convenience of Hand Sanitizer


Nowadays, it is hard to go out into public without escaping the putrid smell of hand sanitizing stations. Upon returning to school this year, the flowery-scented hand sanitizer jugs with overly enthusiastic pumps were the subject of many jokes. Mrs. Nottingham said, “The minute I smelled it I knew it was going to have to find a home just outside my door. I was very thankful that Mr. Conrad invented the “stopper” which prevented the deluge that came from each pump.” So, while it may be odorous, this invention that is far more convenient than good old water and soap has become a basic lifeline for businesses and schools. As you sanitize your hands daily, have you ever stopped and wondered about the history of hand sanitizer?
Before the 19th century, the only reason people washed their hands was to get rid of visible grime on their hands. Soon, the idea of germs was introduced in the 19th century. Many surgeons would use alcohol to disinfect wounds or skin before an operation. While hand sanitizer is one of the biggest products used in everyday life, there is still not an exact story as to where it got its start. Many say that we can thank Lupe Hernandez, a nursing student in California, for creating hand sanitizer in 1966. However, a recent investigation done by historian Joyce Bedi was unable to uncover any evidence of U.S. patents for hand sanitizer under the name Hernandez. Sterillium has also had a claim to “the world’s first marketable alcohol-based hand disinfectant,” which hit shelves in 1965. Last but not least, there is a product called Gojo from 1946 which was mainly a mix of petroleum jelly, mineral oil, and less than 5% alcohol. This company continued to sell its products mainly for auto mechanics to get grease off their hands until 1997 when they released Purell onto the markets.
Despite many sanitary products being introduced to the market in the late 80s to 90s, hand sanitizer did not get popular until the 2000s. This is because many sanitizer companies decided to push hand sanitizer as a necessity for the consumer to have on hand at all times. They even started making different scents and colors for sanitizer as a marketing tactic. Hopefully, now, every time you squirt a little sanitizer in your hands on your way out the door you are reminded of the history of hand sanitizer and wonder who actually came up with the product first.