Health and Wellness

From air purifiers to holiday gifts: Experts say these are the products to buy before fall and winter

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At the start of the pandemic in March, some products seemed impossible to find stocked on store shelves: disinfectant wipes, yeast to make bread, bikes and even jigsaw puzzles sold out as stay-at-home orders swept the nation.

The same thing could happen again in the fall and winter, when there's expected to be another wave of infections as people spend more time indoors. White House advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said that Americans should prepare to "hunker down to get through this fall and winter," in a panel discussion with doctors from Harvard Medical School Sept. 10.

It's likely that people will return to a similar shopping patterns that they developed early in the pandemic, Kelly Haws, a marketing professor at the business school at Vanderbilt University who specializes in consumer psychology, tells CNBC Make It.

Beyond feeling prepared, there's a psychological reason why we tend to "panic-shop" in times of crisis. "Covid-19 has forced many of us into circumstances where we feel out of control and uncertain about the future," Haws says. "Buying stuff that we need in our daily lives is a very easy form of regaining some control."

Here's what experts say you should buy now to be prepared for the fall and winter:

Shelf-stable foods

It's always good to have a two-week supply of essentials such as shelf-stable food and medications that could sustain you and your family in an emergency, Haws says. But it's important not to overreact and go into panic-shopping mode, she says. Although there were shortages of essential items (such as toilet paper) at the start of the pandemic, eventually those shortages were resolved

As you grocery shop, make sure you have enough of the less-essential food items that you always incorporate in your routine, Haws says. For example, "I pretty much always make sure I have plenty of coffee on hand, because the idea of not having it just doesn't sit well with me," she says. 

Investing in small comforts can go a long way: "Have something that makes you continue to feel good and feel like yourself and have a little bit of normalcy, whether that be through particular beverage or food that you like, or through clothing that you wear," she says. 

Cleaning supplies and hand sanitizer 

With the next wave of the pandemic coming around flu season, it will be extra important to follow appropriate hand hygiene to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and the flu. But the scarcity of disinfectant wipes has been slower to resolve than some things, like toilet paper.

Sara Skirboll, shopping and trends expert at RetailMeNot, suggests picking up just one extra cleaning item each shopping trip you take. (Most stores also have a limit to the number allowed per customer.) "Then you're not contributing to the overall shortage when and if that actually happens," she says. The easy-to-find cleaner Pine Sol was recently approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency because it was shown to kill the virus that causes Covid-19. 

Subscription boxes

According to Skirboll, subscription boxes were hot during the last lockdown. It's a good idea to sign up for a subscription box service now, because there could be delays or wait lists if there is another surge in demand, she adds.

Luckily for parents who are juggling remote learning, there are lots of subscription boxes that are targeted for kids, such as Kiwi Co, she says. (Many can be purchased on Amazon.) Each month, you can receive a box with an educational activity or lesson for kids of all ages. 

Signing up for a meal kit subscription boxes, such as Butcher Box or Hello Fresh, can also reduce the amount of grocery shopping that have to do in person, she says. "The neat thing is you're almost guaranteed that you're going to be getting some fresh supply of food to your door every month or however often you sign up," she says.

Exercise equipment 

With gyms closed, there was a shortage of home workout equipment, such as free weights, kettlebells and workout benches. Skirboll suggests looking on Facebook Marketplace and Nextdoor Marketplace to see if anyone in your neighborhood is selling gently-used weights or other home workout tools that you can't find at major retailers. 

While it is safer to exercise outdoors during Covid-19, that may be difficult during cold winter months. "Gloves, hats and materials that allow people to exercise outdoors will be very important," Skirboll adds. 

Air purifiers

We know that Covid-19 is spread through respiratory droplets when an infected person sneezes, coughs, talks or breathes. Home air purifiers can filter out the airborne particles in your air that could possibly contain Covid-19, Shelly Miller, professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder who studies urban air pollution, tells CNBC Make It.

HEPA, or "high-efficiency particulate air" filters have been shown to be very effective at capturing at least 99.97% of airborne particles that are at least 0.3 microns in size, she says. (For context, the Covid-19 virus is about 125 nanometers or 0.125 microns large.) Air cleaners essentially pull air in, pass it through a filter that removes small airborne particles and then dumps clean, particle-free air back in the room, she explains.

While it's not clear what effect these portable devices would have on Covid-19 transmission, or if ventilation alone can eliminate the virus, increased air circulation is a good idea. 

When buying an air purifier, look for a device that uses HEPA filters, and also consider the size of the space you're hoping to clean, Miller says. The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers has a great database of air cleaners that have been independently vetted, she adds. 

Holiday gifts

Start your holiday shopping even earlier than you would in typical years, Skirboll says. "There are going to be delays and possibly inventory issues, so if you know what you want, go ahead and buy those things as soon as you can," she says. Especially if you're buying special toys for kids, because those are likely to sell out, she says. 

Another thing about holiday shopping: Black Friday is an unknown at the moment, Skirboll says. With more people shopping online versus in-person, all the more reason to get a jump on your list, she says. 

Check out: Americans spend over $5,000 a year on groceries—save hundreds at supermarkets with these cards

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