Created for Greatist by the experts at Healthline. Read more
- Homemade hand sanitizer is an acceptable backup option to store-bought sanitizer — when made correctly.
- Make sure your hand sani recipe includes 91 percent rubbing alcohol. (Fast-forward to our recipe here.)
- Overall, soap and water are still more powerful at washing away germs.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made alcohol-based hand sanitizer a pretty rare find these days. Still, it’s the best alternative for keeping your hands germ-free when soap and water aren’t available. So should you make your own using one of the DIY recipes floating around the internet?
Before busting out the vodka and turning your kitchen into a lab, read this. Here’s what you should know about whether homemade hand sanitizer is a good idea — plus how to concoct the most effective batch.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced recalls of several hand sanitizers due to the potential presence of methanol.
Methanol is a toxic alcohol that can have adverse effects, such as nausea, vomiting, or headache, when a significant amount is used on the skin. More serious effects, such as blindness, seizures, or damage to the nervous system, can occur if methanol is ingested. Drinking hand sanitizer containing methanol, either accidentally or purposely, can be fatal. See here for more information on how to spot safe hand sanitizers.
If you purchased any hand sanitizer containing methanol, you should stop using it immediately. Return it to the store where you purchased it, if possible. If you experienced any adverse effects from using it, you should call your healthcare provider. If your symptoms are life threatening, call emergency medical services immediately.
Homemade hand sanitizer can work if it’s made with the right ingredients in the right environment. But that “if” is super important.
To be effective at killing germs, hand sanitizer needs to contain at least 60 percent alcohol, public health experts say. DIY recipes calling for 2 parts 91 percent rubbing alcohol to 1 part emollient give you a sanitizer with just over 60 percent alcohol, so theoretically, it could work.
But that’s assuming you measure your ingredients exactly right and you’re working under sterile conditions. If your sanitizer-making conditions aren’t squeaky clean, it’s possible for the batch to become contaminated — and likely ineffective.
Also, using that 2-to-1 ratio means you need to have 91 percent rubbing alcohol. Products with a lower alcohol content, like 70 percent isopropyl alcohol or vodka, won’t give you the right amount of alcohol when mixed with the emollient, such as aloe vera gel. (And since straight vodka is only around 40 percent alcohol, don’t rely on it alone to clean your hands.)
Lastly, even if you use the right ingredients, get the ratio just right, and mix your sanitizer under sterile conditions, experts don’t know how the concoction could affect your skin. DIY sanitizer could give you extreme dryness or a nasty rash.
Full disclosure, folks: The homemade sanitizer recipes currently floating around on the internet are not from official sources, so they haven’t been rigorously tested for efficacy or safety.
But if you want to try to make your own anyway, stick with a recipe designed to hit that 60 percent alcohol concentration. The best way to achieve that is by mixing:
- 2 parts 91 percent rubbing alcohol
- 1 part emollient, such as aloe vera gel or glycerin
You’ll also want to make sure to sterilize your containers and dry them thoroughly before using, since any residual liquid (even a drop) could mess with your overall ratio.
Can you add essential oils to make the mix smell better or potentially boost the sanitizer’s germ-fighting ability? Sorry, but it’s not a good idea. Adding even a few drops of another ingredient will disrupt that 2-to-1 ratio and put you at risk of not hitting the 60 percent alcohol mark, rendering the sanitizer ineffective.
Plus, even though some essential oils may have antiviral properties, there’s no evidence they’re effective at fighting the new coronavirus. Save that tea tree or eucalyptus oil for some stress-busting aromatherapy instead.
Even if you whip up your homemade hand sanitizer with scientist precision, you shouldn’t rely on it as a first-line defense against the new coronavirus. The very best way to keep germs at bay is to wash your hands.
Hand sanitizers are meant to be used only as a backup when lathering up isn’t an option. Why? To put it simply, soap and water are more effective at removing the virus from your hands than alcohol-based sanitizer, the CDC and other health organizations say.
When you do reach for sanitizer (homemade or store-bought), you’ll reap the max germ-fighting power by applying it correctly. Put enough sanitizer on your hands to cover all surfaces and rub for at least 20 seconds, or until your hands feel fully dry. (You may need to rub even longer with homemade versions.)
As we’ve said, soap and water are your best defense against the new coronavirus. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are an acceptable alternative when washing your hands isn’t an option, but they’re simply not as good at getting rid of the germs.
Stick with handwashing whenever possible, and save the sanitizer for when you’re out somewhere and don’t have access to soap and water. For instance, you could use hand sanitizer for a little extra protection while you’re food shopping or stopping at the pharmacy, but you should still wash your hands ASAP when you get home.