They have become the Holy Grail of cleaning supplies this pandemic year: Lysol and Clorox wipes. Trying to find them is often an exercise in futility.
Throw in Windex spray, Scrubbing Bubbles shower cleaner, and Formula 409, and they round out the list of popular disinfecting products that are nearly impossible to find in stores these days.
Coleman Henderson, owner of a house cleaning company, said he often has to tell homeowners he can't come out that week because of disinfectant shortages.
"I have to postpone jobs because I can't get cleaning supplies." Henderson said.
You can sometimes find these items for sale on Amazon (from third-party sellers) or eBay, but you may have to pay two to three times the retail price, if you can find them at all.
"People are really struggling right now, " said Grace Brombach, of the consumer watchdog group U.S. PIRG. "The last thing that they need to worry about is going online and finding the products that they really need to keep themselves safe at ridiculous prices."
National brands remain in short supply
Stan Beck, owner of a hardware store, said that even though national brands like Windex or Johnson are hard to find, off-brand products are often just as good.
"This is a basic product, like Windex, just a different brand," he said, pointing to a shelf of Brillo window cleaner in his store. Brillo? Yes, they make window cleaner, and he says it works as well as Windex.
Some items, though, are in such short supply that even generic versions are hard to find.
For instance, toilet paper is now plentiful, but paper towel supplies remain tight. Why? A CNN report says manufacturers worked overtime all summer to produce toilet paper, but did not boost paper towel production to the same extent.
Grocery stores now have enough toilet paper (though they are limiting sales again), but not enough Bounty or Scott paper towels.
What you can do
Karen Mallory is the manager of a Do-it Center. She has a shelf stocked with cleaning products that looks like a throwback to 2018.
During our visit, she had Windex, Mr Clean, Spic n' Span, even a collection of N95 face masks, something that was impossible to find for five months.
Mallory said many people don't realize that local hardware stores often have a much better selection than grocery or big box stores because of their group buying power, and the fact that fewer shoppers visit them for cleaning items.
She said she can find almost anything, except those Holy Grail items: name-brand disinfecting wipes.
"We've tried ordering Lysol wipes," she said. "Absolutely. We're trying to keep up on what supplies we can. Some things are just not available."
It's the same situation at grocery stores like Kroger.
The spokeswoman for the nation's largest grocery chain, Kroger, Erin Rolfes said "our suppliers are continuing to work extra hours to keep up with the ongoing customer demand," but said shoppers buy out wipes and disinfectants the moment they are put on the shelves.
So what can you do?
- Visit your grocery store midweek, first thing in the morning, when those wipes and other products are put out.
- Purchase store brands, or off brands, when you find them, especially when it comes to wipes and toilet cleaners.
- Visit your local hardware store, and get to know the manager. Some will hold products for you if you ask.
- Check Amazon frequently.
But U.S. PIRG says resist the urge to pay double or triple the price on eBay, because that encourages sellers to charge even more.
And report gouging to Amazon customer service. That way, you don't waste your money.
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