LOS ANGELES — Silvia Cordero eyed the row of disinfecting gels, soaps and hand sanitizers at a Rite-Aid in Culver City with the intensity of a drill sergeant preparing troops for a skirmish with the H1N1 flu virus.
"They're going in my car, in my desk at work, and in my sons' backpacks," Cordero, 28, said. "I don't really like the way any of them feel on my skin, but they might help keep us healthy."
Concerns about the contagiousness and severity of the H1N1 flu strain have generated a boom in the hand sanitizer market. Sales of gels and wipes have soared by 70.5 percent, from $69.4 million to $118.4 million, in the 24 weeks that ended on Oct. 3, according to data from the Nielsen Company.
Driven in large part by businesses seeking to protect employees and customers, sanitizers helped boost earnings at bleach maker Clorox Corp. and were a bright spot in an otherwise difficult period for Johnson & Johnson, whose Purell subsidiary is one of the main producers of alcohol-based gel cleaners.
Demand for antivirus products has also spawned a cottage industry in personalized sanitizers. Consumers can go online to order them in fur-trimmed pump-bottles on one site or with their company names printed on the front at another.
Pier One Imports is selling holiday-themed sanitizers with such scents as cinnamon and cilantro, packaged as nicely as perfume offerings.
One Internet start-up company is getting so many orders for its disinfecting products from hotels, restaurants and other employers that his suppliers can't keep pace.
"Everything you touch has germs," said Carol Lewis, 65, a Los Angeles resident who keeps hand sanitizer gel in her purse, in her car, and at her home because of concerns about catching swine flu. "I don't know if it's going to protect me, but psychologically it helps."
Bottles of Purell sanitizer sit on every desk at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, where signs pronouncing, "clean hands save lives" greet visitors at every turn. The hospital complex has been ordering 2,200 liters per month of the clear gel, nearly twice the amount that it used before the spread of H1N1.
Last week, Clorox Corp. reported a 23 percent rise in net profits to $157 million in the fiscal first quarter that ended Sept. 30. Most of it was driven by record sales of its Clorox Disinfecting Wipes, said Donald R. Knauss, Clorox chairman and chief executive, who added that demand was so high that the company was diverting part of its manufacturing capability.
Johnson and Johnson of New Brunswick, N.J., makers of Purell Instant Hand Sanitizer, wouldn't release sales figures, but demand has been so high that the company recently put out a statement meant to reassure customers that it would be able to meet demand.