The Big Issue Trader Joe's Fans Had With Its Grapefruit Hand Sanitizer

If you're a fan of Trader Joe's hand sanitizer sprays, you're certainly not alone. In fact, they were even a runner-up in the 2020 Trader Joe's Annual Customer Choice Awards in the category "Home, Bath, and Beauty" (via Travel + Leisure). Unfortunately, the sheer demand for the product might have been its undoing.

In a recent Instagram post showing both the Trader Joe's lavender hand sanitizer spray and the Trader Joe's super lemon room spritz, user @traderjoesobsessed called this out in their caption, writing: "I'm also so, so happy the lavender hand sanitizer (74% alcohol) is back.. much much better than the reformulated grapefruit one that smelled like tequila!" (via Instagram). If this critique sounds familiar, that's because it's not the first time someone has called out the scent of the reformulated grapefruit hand sanitizer at Trader Joe's.

Eight months ago, someone posted in the subreddit r/traderjoes critiquing the spray for turning the straw in the bottle an orange color and smelling rancid (via Reddit). Even Twitter users are questioning the smell, with one tweeting: "Can someone explain why all hand sanitizer now smells like bad tequila? I smell my 20s every time I disinfect my hands" (via Twitter). The reason? Ethanol.

Why Trader Joe's grapefruit hand sanitizer smelled like tequila

The reason Trader Joe's reformulated their sanitizer spray in the first place wasn't because they thought the smell could be improved. In actuality, it was the overwhelming demand for hand sanitizer spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic that led to shortages of standard sanitizing ingredients like isopropanol. This led the FDA to lower hand sanitizer standards in order to allow supply to catch up (via FDA). As the top comment on the Reddit post explained: "there's currently a shortage of the sanitizing ingredient for hand sanitizer, so [the FDA/HHS] are temporarily allowing alcohol distilleries to provide a substitute sanitizing ingredient that works the same... [but] smells awful." That ingredient is denatured ethanol. However, while it might smell bad, ethanol still a safe and effective sanitizing ingredient (via Wirecutter). 

Perhaps the funniest part of this whole story is the addendum to the Trader Joe's Fearless Flyer on the product's surge of popularity in 2020 that reads: "Since posting, the details of this item may have changed due to fluctuating market prices, federal regulations, currency rates, drought, bandits, rush hour traffic, filibusters, zombie apocalypse, punctilious product developers... Contact our Crew for current price and availability" (via Trader Joe's). 

Luckily, according to @traderjoesobsessed's original post, the Trader Joe's lavender hand sanitizer smells "much, much better" than the grapefruit version, and it's just $1.99 per bottle.