How to determine if your alcohol disinfecting wipes are effective against COVID-19

HOUSTON, Texas -- Keeping surfaces sanitized plays a critical role in preventing the spread of COVID-19, but one local chemist and chemical producer said some cleaning products may not be as effective as advertised.

"I got introduced to the poor quality wipes through customers," said Zach McAllister, owner of Custom Chemicals and Coatings. "They would get stuff in when they were available. The price on it was better. That's what their supplier was sending them and they'd be like, 'wow this just doesn't seem right.'"

He said lab results on some products claiming to contain 60% to 70% isopropyl alcohol, the chemical compound used for disinfecting, would come back with negative results.

McAllister said a legitimate cleaning product or hand sanitizer containing 70% isopropyl alcohol will have a strong odor and ignite easily. He said most approved products will also have a flammable warning on the package.

If you suspect a cleaning product may not contain the amount of alcohol as labeled, McAllister said a simple test performed safely outside, can help determine that.

"The easiest thing you can do is take a glass bowl or a pot from the stove, and you can just put your wipe in, put a flame to it, and it will burn very, very quickly," he said. "It'll be very evident. So just like in the video, if you hold a flame to it, and it just doesn't catch on fire just like a wet paper towel wouldn't catch on fire, if that's what it is."

McAllister worries fake anti-bacterial products may be helping the virus spread instead of eliminating it on surfaces.

SEE RELATED STORY: How often should you disinfect your house even if you are staying at home?

"If the price seems too good to be true, it is right," McAllister said. "The principal ingredient that makes an alcohol wipe what it is, is expensive. There's a global shortage of isopropyl and ethyl alcohol, so if you see a pack of wipes and it's three or four dollars, chances are it's not actually going to contain a great deal of alcohol because no one can actually make it, produce it and price it at that point."

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