Clorox ramps up production of wipes, disinfectants in fight against coronavirus

"When I come in, it's not just a normal 9-to-5 job anymore," one worker said. "It's a mission now."

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By Blayne Alexander and Tim Stelloh

The numbers are staggering. One of America’s most well-known manufacturers of cleaning products, Clorox, produced 40 million more items in the first quarter of 2020 than it did during the same time last year.

For its disinfectants, the company has seen a 500 percent increase in demand since March and, in some cases, it sold as much in one week as it usually does in a month.

“We are in completely uncharted territory,” Clorox CEO Benno Dorer said. “We're in catch-up mode.”

The coronavirus pandemic has transformed the century-old company’s operations. Its five plants that produce the wipes for home use, along with a new product ⁠— 55-gallon bleach drums that clean 14,000 hospital rooms ⁠— now operate around the clock. The company has added 263 new employees to its workforce of 8,800. It has boosted base pay for employees and given $1,000 bonuses to lower-level workers.

And the company is trying to ramp up production as safely as possible, Dorer said. Workers now practice social distancing. They stagger meals and breaks. They wear gloves and face coverings and they regularly have their temperatures taken.

“I look at them as front-line workers,” he said.

Mitch oversees the Clorox Bleach production line.NBC News

At a factory in Atlanta, a department crew leader, Carleton Mitchell, told NBC News that the biggest difference between pre-pandemic times and now was how he thought of his job.

“When I came to work, it was a job,” said Mitchell, who’s worked for the company for 22 years. “I clocked out and I went home. Just entirely different now. Now when I come in, it's not just a normal 9-to-5 job anymore. It's a mission now.”

“I don't just see it as products anymore,” he added. “I see it as a line of defense against this fight against the virus itself.”

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Another worker at the Atlanta plant, Jessica Matthews, said she sees trucks are moving products out — and materials in — far more quickly than before. “We've been breaking records as far as the amount of wipes that we're getting out the building,” said Matthews, who works in shipping. “Everything is moving faster, but we're able to do it safely.”

It isn’t clear when store shelves won’t be wiped clean of the company’s products, but Dorer said he hoped they would be “in substantially better shape” by summer.