The coronavirus pandemic has been devastating to the United States economy overall, but one sector of the economy has been booming to the point that manufacturers cannot keep up with demand: cleaning products. And now, Clorox CEO Benno Dorer is warning Americans that shortages could get worse, and could persist well into 2021.
According to a report from Reuters, Dorer says that the supplies of most of the products his company makes have been decimated due to overwhelming customer demand since the start of the pandemic. And while he expects that some of those products (like liquid bleach) will be back in regular stock soon, others will not. In particular, the popular disinfecting wipes made by his company will not be back in full supply until at least next year.
Dorer had initially predicted in May that his company would be able to restock the shelves with those wipes by this summer, but the demand has been so overwhelming that his supply chain literally cannot keep up.
"Disinfecting wipes, which are the hottest commodity in the business right now, will probably take longer because it's a very complex supply chain to make them," Dorer said.
One challenge for the wipes in particular is that the solid component of the wipe is made with polyester spunlace, which is also used to make personal protective equipment for medical personnel.
Dorer told Reuters that his company has made "major" capital investments to ramp up output each quarter, but even so, he does not expect that he will be able to keep the wipes in particular on the shelf this year.
Clorox is not alone among cleaning companies. At grocery stores across America, the shelves of many grocery stores are either empty or nearly empty of all cleaning and disinfecting products. A recent announcement from the Environmental Protection Agency that two Lysol sprays were shown to be effective in lab testing to kill the virus has caused a run on Lysol products as well.
Cleaning companies warned back in March that ramping up production for their products would take "weeks" because most disinfectant products require raw materials that were not widely available at the time. As the pandemic stretches into its fifth month, it appears that even that forecast was wildly optimistic, and that the true duration of the shortages could be "months" or even "years."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that although the coronavirus is now believed to not survive easily on surfaces and that infection from contaminated surfaces is not a "major" driver of infections, frequent cleaning of potentially contaminated surfaces is still a best practice, especially in public areas.