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A wall of Lysol at a New Jersey factory.

A wall of Lysol at a New Jersey factory.

Photographer: Chris Maggio for Bloomberg Businessweek

America Just Can’t Get Enough Lysol

Despite record-breaking, around-the-clock production, the disinfectant still vanishes from store shelves in a matter of hours—even before the latest Covid spike.

One of America’s most recognizable icons of fresh-scented cleanliness comes from New Jersey. No matter where U.S. shoppers are lucky enough to spot cans of Lysol, the sanitizing spray was almost certainly produced at the same sprawling, tan-colored factory, in a suburb an hour’s drive from New York City. Over the noisy plant’s concrete floors, a steady stream of empty cans clink through an assembly line, waiting to be filled. On the line, a machine packs them all with a blend of ethanol, another disinfecting chemical called a quaternary ammonium compound, or quat, and some scent. Employees call the mixture the Juice.

A machine called a Filtec scans each can to make sure it got exactly 19 ounces, then a device called a crimper adds the metal top that will spray the Lysol through the attached plastic straw. In a separate room, another machine uses the straw to inject the butane that propels the spray; then the can gets a bath in a pool of 140F water surrounded by a half-inch of ballistic glass. This makes it almost impossible for the top to burst later, unless somebody throws one into a bonfire. “If it’s going to explode, it will blow here,” says Shahzeb Malik, the site director. “Not on the shelf of a Walmart.” Other machines push on the plastic nozzle, wrap on the Lysol label, and add a cap up top. The cans are bundled into cases and pallets, which are placed onto distribution trucks by forklift, while new, empty cans arrive from a supplier in Pennsylvania.