How can you know?! The short answer is you want either Ethanol or Isopropyl Alcohol in your hand sanitizer. According to the CDC you want a minimum of 60% Ethanol or 70% Isopropyl in hand sanitizer in order be effective against COVID19. If the product is labeled as a "hand sanitizer" then you will see Drug Facts on the back - Ethanol or Isopropyl Alcohol will show up in the Active Ingredients at the top of the box on the back of the bottle with a percent of how much is in there. If they're like us and they don't make the claim of being a hand sanitizer (ours is called Cleansing Gel for Hands with Alcohol) then the percent of alcohol is usually on their site (ours is 65% Ethanol).
The longer answer is sometimes you have to dig deeper. The FDA just released a list of nine hand sanitizers by the company Eskbiochem that all contain Methanol (up to 81% in one of them) instead of or in addition to Ethyl and Isopropyl Alcohols. Still with me? So why is Methanol bad?
Methanol is toxic and can cause "serious damage to organs in the body if a person swallows it, breathes it in, or gets it on their skin" (Methanol Institute). Basically once in your system it turns to Formaldehyde and it all goes south from there. So, the quick answer is if your Drug Facts say Methanol then do not buy that bottle. But let me tell you a story -
It has been a doozy sourcing alcohol for our Cleansing Gel from the jump. We finally located a supplier who had Reagent Grade (the fanciest) ACS (American Chemical Society grade - again, fancy) Ethyl Alcohol. Wonderful! The challenge with pure Ethyl Alcohol is that it's so pure you can drink it. So the government puts an excise tax on it - a big one - which makes it super expensive. The moment you add something that means people can't drink it (aka Methanol) the price goes down because the excise tax isn't applied.
Back to our supplier - in late March they ran out of our fancy Ethyl Alcohol but they said "hey, we've got this other batch that could work - it's Reagent Grade and we sent a sample to a dermatologist in CT who is looking to make a hand sanitizer. He loved it and is going to make his product with it so it could probably work for you too!" I got excited as we'd had a hard time finding alcohol since the entire world had been buying it up. But upon looking at the data sheet (info not included in the name of the item) it had 6% Methanol and 4% Isopropyl Alcohol - which means you can't drink it. So it's way cheaper than pure Ethanol because it doesn't incur the excise tax. Which is why people like it and "what's 6% anyway?"
I'm going to be honest - I knew Methanol existed but I didn't know what its deal was. But a quick Google search brought me here (the FDA hadn't written their handy info sheet yet) and I quickly realized that that was a no. And that it should be a no for the doctor in CT (who went to medical school!) and a no for the supplier trying to sell it to us. But y'all, SO. MANY. PEOPLE. have bought these types of alcohols over the past few months in an effort to make a dollar off a hot item and they aren't declaring it on their labeling. And other uneducated folks who are trying to do the right thing and buy the fancy Ethyl Alcohol to make hand sanitizer aren't reading the fine print and are putting this into their products thinking they're doing the right thing. It's nutty.
So what do you do? I will say this, I don't think Purell, Bath & Body Works and places like that are using Methanol. I'm going to trust them and say they're not. They are using dyes and fragrances but the FDA allows those. But if it's a hand sanitizer you've never heard from I would contact the company and ask them straight up - "does the Ethanol in your product contain any Methanol?" If their answer is anything other than "no" then throw it out. Except you can't throw it in your trash because according the the FDA you have to dispose of it as hazardous waste 🥺.
I can tell you that we are not using it nor have we ever.
Let me know if you have questions in the comments!