Pivoting your business? Here's how to make & label hand sanitizer.


Businesses who never gave hand sanitizer a thought have suddenly shifted gears and became essential producers.

Hand sanitizer is, by all accounts, a product with a solid future. As numerous commentators have informed us, the "new normal" will look very different once the COVID-19 pandemic is behind us, and is almost certain to include a permanently heightened awareness of hand hygiene in daily life.

For many who never gave hand sanitizer a thought, suddenly the case for becoming a producer of the stuff seems like a no-brainer. The FDA's recent guidance for producing it for commercial sale outlines how to do so even if your company is not certified as a drug manufacturer.

An increasing number of companies large and small — including some of our own customers (see pivoting below) — are taking advantage of the FDA's temporary policy to produce and distribute hand sanitizer products for public sale.  While the time window is uncertain for closure of the public health emergency declared by HHS Secretary Azar on January 31, that does not seem likely to be anytime soon. 

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Labeling Equipment for Hand Sanitizers & Sprays

How to Make Hand Sanitizer

Hand sanitizer ingredients are fairly common in normal times but can be hard to get during the current pandemic. According to the New York Times, information on how to make hand sanitizer is everywhere online, but DIY sanitizer is discouraged by medical experts.

Distillers of alcoholic drinks may have a leg up because they're already in the supply chain for a main ingredient, ethanol. Many whiskey and gin distillers start with 96% alcohol by volume (ABV) ethanol.

There are three types of alcohol, two of which may be used in hand sanitizer:

  • Ethyl alcohol (also called  ethanol and grain alcohol)
  • Isopropyl alcohol (also called isopropanol and rubbing alcohol)
  • Methyl alcohol (also called methanol and wood alcohol)

The first two, ethyl and isopropyl, are permitted under the formulation spelled out by the World Health Organization in its WHO-recommended Handrub Formulations:

  • Either ethanol 96% (ABV), or isopropyl alcohol 99.8 percent ABV
  • Hydrogen peroxide 3%
  • Glycerol 98%
  • Sterile distilled or boiled cold water

In the FDA's guidance document, the isopropyl alcohol, if used, is to be United States Pharmacopeia (USP) grade, and the sterile water must meet the specifications for USP Purified Water. No other ingredients, active, or inert, are to be used.

Pivoting to Produce Hand Sanitizer

Distilleries are not the only small businesses pivoting to hand sanitizer production. Some Pack Leader USA customers have done the same, including a company specializing in powder and liquid packaging, a Canadian dental supply company, an oral care products company, a producer of natural bath and body products, and a natural skincare and sanitization product company.

Nimble and resourceful, thousands of small companies like these are responding to an urgent, ongoing national need for such products as hand sanitizers, hand soaps, disinfectant sprays, and cleaning wipes for consumers and healthcare professionals while keeping their doors open and employees gainfully employed.

Many will need to add new or modified equipment to their manufacturing line to fill, cap, and label their new disinfecting hand sanitizer or sanitizing spray products — and that's where our filling, capping, and labeling equipment comes into play. (See our machine recommendations below.)

Upgrading Equipment for Hand Sanitizer Production

Business owners who've already pivoted and are looking for ways to improve efficiency in hand sanitizer or spray production lines have probably evaluated what's practical and affordable.

Once inefficiencies are uncovered and corrected and opportunities for temporary overtime have been explored, the next step is to consider upgrades to filling, capping, and labeling equipment.


For example, if labeling is the "bottleneck" in your process, selecting the right high-speed labeling machine to integrate with your line could boost production by several hundred percent.

Labeling machines come in many sizes and shapes. For an excellent overview, read our October 2019 post How to Choose the Best Labeling Machine to Work for Each of Your Product Package Design Types.

Briefly, whichever high-speed labeling machine is appropriate for your container type and line layout, you'll be able to reduce the number of operators to keep your line running while increasing output to keep pace with production speed. A 300% increase in bottles produced per hour is commonly reported by our customers.

Automation can also reduce repetitive strain injuries from manual label application, and free up employees to work in other areas such as packing and quality control. 

Hand Sanitizer Equipment Recommendations

The reason we make a wide variety of machines is that there are many bottle and package shapes, output speeds vary widely, and production processes are unique, almost like fingerprints.

However, we can mention which of our labeling and filling machines have been popular with our customers to produce hand sanitizer and hand sanitizer labels.

While the PL-501 is a popular workhorse, a smaller operation might start with one of our ELF-series tabletop labelers. Going the other direction, highly capable machines such as our PRO series labeling machines and SL series shrink-sleeve labelers are suitable for larger operations.

For more information about our machines, be sure to visit Filling & Capping Equipment for Hand Sanitizers & Sprays and Labeling Equipment for Hand Sanitizers, Sprays & Wipes.