Why are sanitizers, disinfectants still in such short supply?

Published: May. 13, 2020 at 2:50 PM EDT
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When the coronavirus outbreak reached American shores, consumers quickly snagged any cleaning products they could find. Months later, shelves with cleaning sprays, disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer are still bare.

"The issue is what happened in the beginning, right at the start of the coronavirus outbreak, the panic buying," explained Patrick Penfield, a supply chain expert and Syracuse University professor.

Penfield says that was only the first problem. What happened next was a series of international supply chain hiccups, starting with a full stop on shipments of critical ingredients from China.

"We're very dependent on supplies from China, especially from a shipment standpoint," Penfield said. "So, we had no ships coming from the ports."

While big brands have ramped up production, Penfield doesn't expect U.S. stores will have these products fully stocked until late summer.

With wipes at stores sold out, some people are taking matters into their own hands. YouTube is chock full of recipes and demonstrations for DIY cleaning supplies.

In Portland, Oregon, mom, craftswoman and now business owner Ariel Russell is making reusable disinfectant wipes that come with instructions to make your own alcohol-based solution. She offers them on Etsy and has already sold out three times.

"You just pluck one out, disinfect and then it goes through the wash and wash and reuse them, stick 'em back in," she said.

The business has grown so much, she's hired four seamstresses and she's expecting more orders with availability at stores still slim.

Experts are concerned that when these products do make it back on store shelves later this year, it will be just in time for flu season. That timing could lead to more shortages.