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Chemicals safety watchdog: Don't use spirits for home-made hand disinfectant

General hardware and retail store Biltema has reported a brisk trade in methylated spirits in February and March.

Punaista nestettä lasipullossa.
General retail chain Biltema said customers have indicated they plan to use methylated spirits to make hand disinfactant. Image: Heikki Haapalainen / Yle

The Safety and Chemicals Agency Tukes has warned consumers against using denatured alcohol or methylated spirits to make hand disinfectant. The caution comes against the backdrop of higher than usual demand for the products.

The general hardware and retail chain Biltema said that recently, it has sold large amounts of methylated spirits to customers who said they planned to use it to make hand disinfectant.

The product contains ethanol and isopropanol and many products also have from one to five percent acetone.

Story continues after photo.

Punaisia sprii-pulloja hyllyssä.
Denatured alcohol or methylated spirits is highly flammable. Image: Heikki Haapalainen / Yle

Tukes group manager Paula Haapasalo said that methylated spirits should not even be added to hand disinfectant preparations, noting that ethanol and isopropanol are flammable substances. She noted that even static electricity or a spark from faulty electrical equipment could cause spirits to burst into flames.

It should not be used near hot surfaces such as an electrical stove that is in use, she added.

Vaporised acetone can cause dizziness

Tukes pointed out that chemicals should always be kept in the packaging in which it was purchased. It cautioned that portioning off denatured spirits into smaller bottles can be dangerous because it can vaporise into the air during the process. The acetone in he mixture can then cause dizziness and drowsiness.

"The product is not meant for hand disinfectant and it is therefore worth noting that using it for this purpose may also dry out the skin a lot," Haapasalo said, noting that dry skin breaks easily and may be more susceptible to infection.

Biltem said that between February and March this year, sales of denatured alcohol outstripped sales for the same period last year.

"Our figures do not show a rise in demand for any other chemical during the same period," Biltema Finland CEO Jani Mahlakaarto said.

"Biltema has not in any way advertised spirits to be used in the preparation of hand disinfectant, nor do we recommend it," Mahlakaarto stressed.

He added that the product packaging contains the appropriate safety information.

Methylated spirits is often used as fuel in spirit and camping stoves and in fondue burners. It is also used for cleaning clear surfaces such as mirrors, for cleaning and for stain removal.

Tukes' Haapasalo pointed out that the most effective way to prevent the spread of novel coronavirus is to thoroughly wash hands with soap and water.

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