Government regulations kept distilleries of products for consumption from making other, nonconsumable products with alcohol—such as hand sanitizer. When l officials realized that these regulations were blocking the production of hand sanitizer—a vital weapon in combatting the virus—they relaxed the rules on a temporary basis, easing them to allow production of hand sanitizer in distilleries, much in the way many factories were repurposed for the war effort during World War II. As a result, distillers were given more freedom to follow the WHO regulations for creating hand sanitizer, a more liberal ruling that allows the use of either natured or denatured alcohol. In addition, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) relaxed its regulations on changing products because of the health emergency of the coronavirus pandemic, and distilled spirits producers were ruled exempt from having to get new permits. The easing of these regulations allowed for large-scale production of hand sanitizer by distilleries.
Another problem stemmed from the high excise tax levied on liquor producers of drinkable alcohol. At first, the taxes were still in place, despite the change to a nonconsumable item. To reduce the tax burden, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, signed into effect on March 27, 2020, gave a temporary exemption from excise taxes imposed on distilleries to those adjusting to making hand sanitizer, but only for those using denatured alcohol (an FDA requirement not dictated in the WHO recipe).
Making the Product Safer
As production continued, hand sanitizer bottles became scarce, and distillers turned to using standard liquor bottles, increasing the danger of accidental (or intentional) ingestion, especially by children. Since the alcohol in hand sanitizer is roughly 120 proof (as opposed to vodka, which is 80 proof), and has additional ingredients, it can be toxic. Thus, the FDA required that the alcohol in the sanitizer be denatured to make it bitter and less likely to be drunk. This led to further problems as the denaturing product, becoming more in demand, also became scarce and thus more expensive.