As you’re no doubt aware, bottles of hand sanitizer keep selling out due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. But make sure you’re not buying mass-manufactured sanitizer that uses methanol, or wood alcohol, which can be toxic when absorbed through the skin or ingested.
Washing hands with soap and water is the most effective way to stop the spread of germs. But when soap and water isn’t available, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends using a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates the production of hand sanitizer so that commercial hand sanitizers should always contain at least 60% alcohol upon purchase.
It’s more difficult to measure alcohol content in homemade sanitizers, which is why commercial sanitizers are recommended. But in a pinch, you may be able to make an effective hand sanitizer at home. Here’s how.
How to make your own hand sanitizer
Hand sanitizer recipes, including the one below, are intended for use by professionals with the necessary expertise and resources for safe creation and proper utilization.
Only use homemade hand sanitizers in extreme situations when handwashing isn’t available for the foreseeable future.
Don’t use homemade hand sanitizers on children’s skin as they may be more prone to use them improperly, leading to a greater risk of injury.
How it works
To be effective at killing germs, hand sanitizer must be at least 60% alcohol. In commercially-made products, alcohol concentration is measured with an alcohol meter.
When followed closely, this recipe produces a hand sanitizer with the necessary alcohol concentration. However, it’s important to measure precisely.
Careful attention should be paid to the ratio of key ingredients or else you run the risk of creating a formula that isn’t effective or is too harsh on your skin.
What you’ll need:
- 1 part aloe vera gel or glycerin
- 2 part isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol) with a concentration of 91%
- Essential oil, such as lemon or lavender (this is an optional ingredient for scent)
- Clean containers for mixing and an air-tight container for storage
- Spoon or whisk for mixing
Step 1. Combine the aloe vera gel or glycerin with the isopropyl alcohol in a clean container. To get one cup of sanitizer, combine ⅓ cup of gel or glycerin with ⅔ cup of rubbing alcohol.
Step 2. Mix thoroughly with your spoon or whisk to ensure that the alcohol is evenly distributed throughout the gel.
Step 3. Stir in five drops of an essential oil, if you’re using it. This is entirely optional and is only meant to improve the scent of the sanitizer.
Step 4. Store the sanitizer in an air-tight container. Alcohol evaporates with time, so an air-tight container will keep your sanitizer effective for longer. A pump or squeeze bottle can minimize evaporation while keeping your sanitizer easily accessible — just make sure the container for your sanitizer is clean and air-tight.
The key to making an effective, germ-busting hand sanitizer is to stick to a 2:1 proportion of alcohol to aloe vera. This keeps the alcohol content around 60 percent. This is the minimum amount needed to kill most germs, according to the CDC.
Is DIY hand sanitizer safe and effective?
DIY hand sanitizer recipes are all over the internet these days — but are they safe? Homemade sanitizer is likely better than nothing. But commercially-made hand sanitizer is always better because it undergoes quality control to ensure effective alcohol content.
Home recipes can be easily contaminated with an incorrect ingredient, measurement, or insufficient alcohol to kill germs. If you choose to make hand sanitizer at home, it is vitally important you are working in a clean space, with clean tools, and you wash your hands thoroughly before beginning the process.
Although the recipe is simple, finding ingredients for hand sanitizer may be challenging. You must use rubbing alcohol, which has a higher concentration of alcohol: no drinkable spirits are effective for sanitizing.
How to properly use your homemade sanitizer
Homemade sanitizer is often more runny than commercially-made sanitizers, so it can be difficult to use. A squeeze or pump container can make your homemade sanitizer easier to use without spilling.
To use hand sanitizer effectively, squeeze out enough to cover the full surface of your hands. Rub your hands together, coating all surfaces. Continue to rub your hands together until they are dry, which takes about 20 seconds.
Handwashing vs. hand sanitizer
Knowing when it’s best to wash your hands, and when hand sanitizers can be helpful, is key to protecting yourself from the new coronavirus as well as other illnesses, like the common cold and seasonal flu.
While both serve a purpose, washing your hands with soap and water should always be a priority, according to the CDC. Only use hand sanitizer if soap and water isn’t available in a given situation.
It’s also important to always wash your hands:
- after going to the bathroom
- after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
- before eating
- after touching surfaces that could be contaminated
The CDC lists specific instructions on the most effective way to wash your hands. They recommend the following steps:
- Always use clean, running water. (It can be warm or cold.)
- Wet your hands first, then turn the water off, and lather your hands with soap.
- Rub your hands together with the soap for at least 20 seconds. Make sure to scrub the back of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails.
- Turn the water on and rinse your hands. Use a clean towel or air dry.