They started hand-sanitizer businesses during covid. How are they doing now?

Amy Welsman decided to change her company’s focus away from the general sanitizer market to new moms.  (Paume)
Amy Welsman decided to change her company’s focus away from the general sanitizer market to new moms. (Paume)


Consumers couldn’t get enough of the product during the pandemic. But as demand cooled, some startups found they had to pivot.

During the pandemic, hand sanitizers became everyone’s front-line defense—and countless startups launched to meet the overwhelming demand.

Then the demand wasn’t so overwhelming anymore.

According to research company Statista, the global hand-sanitizer market boomed by 500% in 2020 to $6.3 billion in revenue from $1.03 billion in 2019. But as the pandemic subsided, so did sales: $3.5 billion in 2021, and hovering around $3 billion for the next couple of years.

So, what happened to all those startups? Here’s a look at three of them.

Easing parental concerns

Amy Welsman was inspired to rework sanitizer before the pandemic hit—when she became a new mom in 2019. Welsman, who previously handled an array of jobs for women’s intimates brand Knix, found the sanitizers on the market harsh and off-putting, and she didn’t want it on her hands when she changed her baby. Her idea: sanitizer with a better scent and ingredients that nourished the skin, sold in more environmentally friendly packages.

By the time she launched her startup, Paume, in 2021, the pandemic was at its height. “I was planning to make utilitarian hand sanitizer a luxurious beauty product—something totally new," she says. “As I was developing the product, the pandemic hit, and the sanitizer category changed overnight."

With demand for sanitizer soaring, she decided to reach out to a wider base of customers than just new moms.

The company garnered some attention in the media and attracted a loyal following, Welsman says. But overall “marketing to a broad market was tough in the early days," she says. “There was a backlash in the hand-sanitizer industry, where people would say, ‘I never want to see it again.’ "

So, Welsman decided to focus her efforts on the group that originally inspired Paume—new moms. They “care about hand hygiene and minimizing the spread of germs in their families. They also want products to make you feel good," she says.

The strategy worked. Paume’s revenue grew 40% in 2022 to $570,000 as the company expanded beyond sanitizer into the hand-care category. Revenue reached over $1.5 million in 2023 and is on track to double again this year, Welsman says, and the company has launched six new products, including a nail and cuticle cream. The company also secured retail partnerships with stores including Holt Renfrew and Bluemercury.

“Despite what most people would assume, we have seen our most significant growth in the last year," she says.

Dealing out sanitizer on cards

Charles Robinson was a philosophy student at University College London—and “not enjoying it," he says—when the pandemic hit. The situation led him down an improbable new path: the sanitizer business.

“It was primarily born out of a personal necessity to do something meaningful with my life in the first lockdown," says Robinson. “There wasn’t a business plan or any market research, nor am I passionate about hand sanitizer. I just loved the idea of doing something better, both for myself and the people who needed help."

His idea was inspired by products like scented cards designed to freshen up vehicles. He started asking himself, “Could you put hand sanitizer in a card like this? Who would buy them? Could you custom brand them?"

Robinson launched Gelcard in April 2020, using part of his student loan to get the company rolling. He says the products, which people can snap in half to release sanitizer, were profitable right away, netting $250,000 from summer 2020 to summer 2022, selling to businesses that could put their brands on the products.

Logistics was a problem at the start: Factories were closing in Europe during the pandemic, but Robinson found a manufacturer in Milan. “I saw a similar technology on the market and wanted to replicate it by putting hand sanitizer inside, so I found the supplier and called them up," he says. “It was as simple as a few Google searches and a phone call. I didn’t even fly as it was during Covid."

But as the pandemic wound down, he faced a more serious challenge: His market was drying up.

“2022 was tough in Europe—look around any public place, the social architecture is virtually identical to 2019 with no face masks, no hand-sanitizer stations, no social distancing," he says.

So Robinson looked beyond Europe to Japan and markets in the Middle East. “Those cultures are much more conscious about self-hygiene—even before Covid, some people were wearing masks, and there were sanitizers in restaurants," he says. He opened an office in Tokyo in September 2022 and one in Kuwait the following year.

Robinson has signed renowned restaurants in Tokyo and Kuwait to provide the cards at the table as part of a place setting. Over 50% of revenue in the past 12 months has come from Japan and the Middle East, with 40% from the U.K. and 10% from the rest of Europe. The cards also sell to businesses that can put their logos on the product to give away to clients, for instance.

Robinson plans to launch Gelcard2—made entirely of paper—this year. He says he makes a “good but modest living," while reinvesting most of his profit back into Gelcard and his other business, a water-filter startup.

Pivoting into—and out of—sanitizer

Dawn Andrews says she was “making ends meet" with her cosmetics, bath and body business, garb2ART, in early 2020. But when the pandemic hit, the Columbus, Ind., company’s sales representatives started asking if she could deliver a different kind of product that was heavily in demand—sanitizer.

“After the third conversation, I knew I needed to at least try," she says. “I had made hand sanitizer before on a small level for a local hospital gift shop, so I was familiar with the process."

The decision meant investing “the last $5,000 I had" in isopropyl alcohol, bottles, sprayers, labels and aloe water, Andrews says. But the prospects for her regular business didn’t look good: The demand for her normal products was drying up quickly, and “my business would have never survived without taking the chance I did. I had no investor, no cash other than that—zero."

Within days, Andrews says, things got crazy. “I went from $400 of orders per day to $40,000 and two employees to 50," she says. “We had people and businesses begging us for hand sanitizers."

The boom lasted from March to mid-May of 2020. By then, she says, demand for her sanitizer waned as store shelves started to fill up with competing products, and she was facing fees of $25,000 to formally register her business as a sanitizer manufacturer.

“We just weren’t getting the sales anymore to go to that level long term," Andrews says. “We would have stayed if we were busy, but that wasn’t the case."

All told, she says, the sales increase brought in about $150,000 in profit, and helped her business stay afloat until gift stores were ordering her old products again. So far, Andrews says, sales for her traditional products in 2024 are about $5,000 a day—10 times what they were in January 2020—thanks to an increase in wholesale orders. And she anticipates more growth in the year ahead.

Also important, she got a big boost in reputation. “At the January 2020 gift trade shows, no one really knew who I was. I had been in business for seven years, but we weren’t a big player at all," Andrews says, adding, “Stepping up and making hand sanitizer during a time of need just let everyone know we are here."

Barbara Haislip is a writer in Chatham, N.J. She can be reached at

Catch all the Corporate news and Updates on Live Mint. Download The Mint News App to get Daily Market Updates & Live Business News.