Drug store finds unique use for grain alcohol

Staff Written News

By Patrick Yost


When the pandemic hit and the need to sanitize hands became crucial, stockpiles of hand sanitizer were exhausted. The United States Food and Drug Administration took notice, says Thrifty Mac owner and pharmacist George Lanius. Lanius said he consulted with other pharmacists and received a bulletin from the FDA with a recipe on how to produce hand sanitizer. “It’s the same thing that happened to toilet paper. It became an essential item.”

The ingredients are simple, Launius says, a little glycerin, some hydrogen peroxide, purified water and, of course, alcohol.

“The main ingedient is alcohol and the supply of non-drinkable, non-tax paid alcohol is exhausted also,” Launius says.

A fellow pharmacist sold Launius approximately 40 small bottles of hand sanitizer that he had made at his store using a unique ingredient: grain alcohol also known as the brand name Everclear, a 190 proof distilled spirit with a distinct smell. 

“I sold it all that day and realized I had to go to the liquor store,” Launius says. He also went to Walmart and purchased a drink dispenser with a spout. Launius mixes the ingredients in his store behind the pharmacy counter. He adds the distilled water, he says, because the grain alcohol is too strong to be effective without the water. “It’s too strong, at 95 percent it does not kill germs like 70 percent. Virus and bacteria respond to low percentage alcohol. It has to be cut.

If it didn’t have to be cut you could just go to the liquor store and buy grain alcohol.”

“We measure the ingredient and put it in there, shake it up and it’s good to go.”

Launius drove to a liquor store in Rutledge and purchased a half gallon of grain alcohol and started production. Since that beginning he has created and sold more than 400 spray bottles of the home-made hand sanitizer and gone through more than 30 bottles of grain alcohol. The finished product, he believes, is better than commercially produced hand sanitizer. The spray coats the hands. “You don’t waste it. You get just enough. The commercial version is thicker and more gel-like.”

However, the downside is cost. Launius’ version costs more, he says, because buying the individual ingredients costs more, especially the grain alcohol. “The problem with using the grain alcohol is that the taxes on this type of alcohol are very high. That’s why the compounded hand sanitizer that pharmacies are making costs more than common brands like Purell.”

 And, says Launius’ wife Nancy, the front manager for Thrifty Mac, “at times we had a hard time getting grain alcohol.”

The store gets calls from the local liquor stores when a shipment of grain alcohol arrives. 

Launius has shared the hand sanitizer with local assisted living homes to help try and combat the COVID-19 virus.

“Hopefully the commercial hand sanitizer companies will catch up with production in the coming months.”

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