Why you shouldn’t make your own hand sanitizer

March 14, 2020 1:37 PM +8 GMT


Fears of coronavirus are causing a shortage of store-bought hand sanitizer.Getty Images

The rapid spread of coronavirus (or COVID-19) has people clearing out shelves of hand sanitizer across the world. And if you try to buy it online, good luck — most of it is out of stock or marked up on AmazonWalmart.comBath and Body Works, Walgreens and other retailers.

The shortages and buying limits have spurred people to make their own hand sanitizer using recipes from Twitter, Reddit, Pinterest, countless blogs and even a pharmacy. But just because these recipes exist doesn’t mean you should follow them.

Experts caution that making homemade hand sanitizer is harder than it seems. If you don’t get the concentration right, experts warn that you’ll end up with something that isn’t effective or is too harsh, and is a waste of ingredients.

Homemade hand sanitizer recipes

Most of the countless recipes out there use a mix of 91% or 99% isopropyl alcohol (also known as rubbing alcohol) and aloe vera gel, which is necessary to add moisture to your skin because alcohol will dry it out. In these recipes, the typical ratio is two thirds rubbing alcohol to one third of a cup of aloe vera gel.

Even if you follow that recipe, you can still mess it up. Mixing it at home, you can’t control how the alcohol gets diluted in the final product. If you don’t use enough aloe gel, it will dry out the skin on your hands, which can cause it to crack or bleed (the same is true if you just pour rubbing alcohol on your skin). 

But if you don’t use enough alcohol, the final product won’t be as effective at killing germs as store-bought hand sanitizer — rendering it basically useless according to some experts. You can also contaminate your batch with bacteria by not using clean tools to mix it together.

The final issue is that because of the popularity of these homemade hand sanitizers, the ingredients are now harder to come by. So even if you want to make it, you might not be able to find rubbing alcohol and aloe vera at your local drugstore.

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You should avoid recipes that call for vodka or spirits because you need a high proof liquor to get the right concentration of alcohol by volume. That’s because most liquor is mixed with water, so if you mix a 80-proof vodka (which is the standard proof) with aloe, you’ll have hand sanitizer that contains less than 40% alcohol. In response to a tweet about someone using Tito’s Vodka to make DIY hand sanitizer, the company responded by saying that you shouldn’t use its product for that purpose. 

The World Health Organization has official instructions to make a disinfecting hand sanitizer to use in medical settings, but it’s not written for the average prepper to use. It requires using sterile water, an alcoholometer to measure the concentration of alcohol in the final product and glycerol (also known as glycerin), which isn’t as easy to track down at your local drugstore as aloe vera gel. 

It also does not recommend including any dyes, essential oils or other fragrances because they could cause an allergic response — a lot of DIY recipes call for essential oils to mask the smell of alcohol.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.

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