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Demand For Wipes, Sanitizers And Bleach Spikes Amid Coronavirus Fears

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Demand for sanitizers, bleach and wipes is on the rise. Americans are stocking up in case the coronavirus spreads further, and that has helped the fortunes of at least one company - Clorox. Its stock price hit an all-time high during last week's big sell-off. NPR's Alina Selyukh reports from Washington, D.C.

ALINA SELYUKH, BYLINE: As the coronavirus keeps popping up around the U.S., people are starting to take stock of what they might need to be ready to deal with an outbreak in their community. Across the board, companies that make or sell cleaning and disinfecting products are confirming spikes in demand, especially for hand sanitizer. I went to three pharmacies in the D.C. area, all of which either had none or barely any left.

Excuse me, ma'am. If I were hand sanitizer, where would I be?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Sold out.

SELYUKH: They're all gone?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: They bought it out.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: All day - hand sanitizer and the face masks - all day.

SELYUKH: In the past month, sales of medical and household masks tripled from last year, according to retail tracker Nielsen. That's even though health experts don't really recommend masks for regular people who aren't sick, saying they offer more of a false sense of security than actual protection. Nielsen says demand for hand sanitizer has also started climbing, up about 73% last month, more than the typical jump you'd see during cold and flu season.

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STUART BURGDOERFER: The hand sanitizer business is presently growing at a very high rate for reasons we would all understand.

SELYUKH: That's Stuart Burgdoerfer, chief financial officer of L Brands, the parent company for Bath & Body Works, on a call with investors on Wednesday. Makers of disinfecting products have been gearing up for a potential rush of demand not just for sanitizers, but also bleach and wipes.

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LAXMAN NARASIMHAN: Our people are working round the clock with consumers in mind.

SELYUKH: That's Laxman Narasimhan, chief executive of Lysol parent company Reckitt Benckiser. He spoke to investors on Thursday, saying the company has an emergency team on watch to keep supplies from running out.

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NARASIMHAN: Clearly, we're continuing to make capacity investments to ensure that we don't run out at the peak for some of these products.

SELYUKH: The Clorox Company also says it has stepped up production of its disinfecting products. Drugstore chains CVS and Walgreens say they're monitoring the new wave of demand and will try to keep their shelves stocked as much as possible. Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say while sanitizers and bleach could work against the coronavirus, they also recommend a more traditional cleaning approach - soap and water, thoroughly washing your hands under running water for 20 seconds.

Alina Selyukh, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.