Last year, hand sanitizer transformed from rarely-used novelty item to must-have daily accessory. But there’s a reason why the powerful disinfectant wasn’t more popular before it became a necessity — it smells terrible, dries out your skin, and often leaves behind uncomfortable residue. In the weird new world of the pandemic and a highly contagious disease, these concerns were certainly less pressing than the importance of staying COVID-free, but even with cutesy new labels or bought in cheap, bulk batches, hand sanitizer mostly sucked.
That lack of quality and care in the hand sanitizer market was the first issue that prompted Cleanli founders Ryan Lewendon, Alex Sourry and Blake Mitchell to come together in 2020 and launch their herbal-focused, internet-minded product. Respective backgrounds in CPG law, bioscience, and branding made the trio of friends an ideal complement for one another, and though it’s pretty rare for Cinnamon to feature a product or a company run by all men, Cleanli is innovative enough to make the cut. Plus, every single woman who’s seen my sample or tried a spray has remarked not just over the sleek bottle, but also the calming rosemary smell, and complete lack of dreaded residue.
Even beyond aesthetics — which are on point — the first excellent aspect of Cleanli is that it’s a spray hand sanitizer. Instead of a gloppy pump from a soap or lotion spout, this sanitizer is completely liquid instead of gel. That’s part of why the consistency rubs into the skin easier and doesn’t leave behind a mess of extra gel to rub into your wrists or wipe away on your sleeves. Why isn’t all hand sanitizer liquid that’s sprayed from a pump like hairspray? Unclear, but it’s much easier to use.
The spray bottle also means a cuter bottle in general, with lightly frosted glass, a white pump and a silver, bubbly label that evokes other recent cult cleanliness products like Bathing Culture. Sleek minimalism might be in, but spiking it with a dash of some curvaceous, approachable graphics is the real key to aesthetic success in 2021. When it comes to looks, Cleanli gets full marks, it’s the chicest hand sanitizer I’ve ever seen, and I’m including custom offerings that some hotel boutique hotels have been stocking up on.
Speaking of minimalism, the Cleanli guys were equally concerned with making a product that would be all-natural, cruelty-free and completely vegan. Here’s the full seven ingredient list of exactly what’s in Cleanli’s hand sanitizer: Organic ethyl alcohol (63%), water, glycerin, rosemary oil, green mandarin oil, yuzu oil, and vitamin E (mixed tocopherols). And unlike other hand sanitizers, which are also, necessarily, made up primarily of alcohol, this one doesn’t smell like it. Instead, it smells like rosemary, yuzu and faintly citrusy.
I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t frequently skipped a friend’s sanitizer offering because I’m so sick of smelling like cheap vodka or tossed off tequila — seriously, did liquor companies just pivot some runoff alcohol into the sanitizer market? Putting something on my hands that makes them smell better instead of worse while protecting me from disease is just another win. Let’s break down some of those other less recognizable ingredients.
Yuzu is an east asian citrus fruit that’s halfway between lemon, lime and grapefruit, hence the citrusy scent. Green mandarin oil is pressed from unripened mandarin — as opposed to red mandarin oil, made from the ripe fruit — that’s used to soothe the nervous system, aid with digestion, and clean surfaces. While the middle usage probably isn’t relevant, because I definitely don’t recommend ingesting Cleanli, the other two are both relevant. My new nervous habit of putting on hand sanitizer constantly is tied to my anxiety about COVID, yes, but also because I’ve noticed the smell of this stuff calms me down. It’s grounding. Having clean hands feels like clearing my mind, a tiny, CDC-approved ritual I can control even if everything else is chaos.
At $6.99 per one ounce bottle Cleanli is definitely more expensive than the absolute cheapest, baseline hand sanitizer out there. But it’s in the same realm as the handmade soaps I buy at the local hardware store, and it’s actually cheaper than most of the candles and incense I use simply for scent alone — so the fact that it’s functional and portable too makes it more reasonable. A glass bottle over a plastic one also means it never accidentally squirts open, and the spray function makes all the difference. Plus, instead of making my cuticles and knuckles insanely dry like lots of other cheap sanitizers I’ve tried, Cleanli is actually moisturizing due to the glycerin and vitamin E.
So far, this coveted hand sanitizer is available in pretty much every Alfred coffee shop in Los Angeles, Frances May in Portland, Oregon, The Goods Mart in New York, and a few stores in Aspen and Boulder, Colorado, where the company began. It’s also available online via their website and via the digital wellness market Bubble Goods. Cleanli described their mission as such: “To create an elevated but effective sanitizing experience for moisturized, clean hands and a grounded mind.” If you’re willing to pay an extra couple bucks for something that smells beautiful, moisturizes your hands, and has a cute bottle, then this is absolutely for you.
Check at Alfred next time you’re ordering an iced coffee on the app, or head to their website to buy several bottles in bulk and save 10%.