When it comes to keeping hands clean and germ-free, nothing compares to soap and water. But when hand washing isn’t an option, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says hand sanitizer is the next best thing(1).
Retailers have struggled to keep up with the popular demand for hand sanitizer in the last few months due to recent coronavirus outbreaks, and many are still out of stock. As an alternative solution, people began to research how to make hand sanitizer gel at home.
Many recipes for hand sanitizer have circulated the internet recently, but most of them are not effective at killing germs and viruses as they do not contain at least 60 percent alcohol(1). The World Health Organization (WHO) released a recipe specifically for pharmacies and hospitals that do not have access to commercial-grade hand sanitizer(2). Some doctors have adapted this recipe, using more accessible ingredients, to create their own hand sanitizer gel at home.
WHO’s recipe for hand sanitizer calls for ingredients commonly found in a medical lab such as ethanol, hydrogen peroxide, glycerol, sterile water and isopropyl alcohol(2). While these items can also be purchased for at-home use, each substance needs to be accurately measured and tested with an alcoholometer to make sure the sanitizer gel contains 60 percent alcohol or more.
There are several recipes online for making homemade hand sanitizers, but not all recipes kill the germs and bacterias that can make people sick. This DIY hand sanitizer recipe is a more simple version of WHO’s recipe for pharmacies and hospitals, and can be made at home with common ingredients found in a drugstore. While it does not compare to soap and water or a commercial hand sanitizer, this mixture can help reduce the spread of germs.
1. First, put on glasses or goggles to protect your eyes from any splashes. You can also use rubber gloves to protect your hands as pure isopropyl alcohol can irritate skin.
2. Using a funnel, pour (in this order) alcohol, hydrogen peroxide and glycerin into a large glass container such as a mason jar.
3. Pour in water and close the jar tightly to shake the mixture until it is fully combined. You can also add a few drops of essential oils for fragrance at this point.
4. You can then pour the mixture into portable dispensing containers such as spray bottles or pump bottle dispensers for easy use.
If you plan to add aloe vera gel to the recipe, the WHO recommends substituting aloe for water at a 1:1 ratio as aloe also contains water; too much can dilute the alcohol content in the hand sanitizer and make it less effective. You can also add a few drops of vitamin E oil to the mixture which can help calm and soften skin.
Some of the alcohol-based hand sanitizers you would find in a store can reduce 99.9 percent of microbes and bacteria on hands, but they do not eliminate all types of germs(1). Homemade hand sanitizers are even less effective and should only be used when hand washing is not available.
Some data shows that some alcohol-based hand sanitizers can minimize certain types of bacteria when used correctly. The issue is that most people may not use enough hand sanitizer or may wipe it off before it has dried completely. This prevents some germs and bacteria from being killed and makes the hand sanitizer less effective(1).
To use hand sanitizer properly, make sure to put enough sanitizer on your hands to cover all surfaces. Rub your hands together for about 20 seconds until they feel dry. Do not rinse or wipe off the hand sanitizer before it is completely dry as it may not work well against germs(4).
Only hand sanitizers with 60 percent or more alcohol can kill certain germs and bacteria. Hand sanitizers with less than 60 percent of alcohol may only reduce the growth of germs but not destroy them entirely. Few studies have been conducted, but the CDC believes hand sanitizers likely cannot remove many all types of harmful chemicals and germs, even when used correctly. One study showed that people who used hand sanitizer to clean their hands had increased levels of pesticides in their bodies(1).
Soap and water still work best for destroying parasites and bacteria such as cryptosporidium, norovirus andClostridioides difficile, all of which can cause vomiting and diarrhea and can become life-threatening in some cases if not treated with antibiotics.
Hand sanitizer is helpful when doing things like visiting a loved one in the hospital, nursing home or another situation when hand washing is not immediately available. Even after using hand sanitizer, you should still wash your hands with soap and water as soon as you can(4).
When you prepare food, treat wounds, use the bathroom, touch animals or participate in other contaminating activities, soap and water are essential for keeping hands clean. Hands can also become very greasy and sweaty from things like playing sports, gardening, camping and other activities. Hand sanitizers do not work well for these types of messes and hand washing is the best option(4).
Washing and scrubbing hands with water for at least 20 seconds is the only way to make sure all germs and bacteria are gone(4).
Many studies show that hand sanitizers are effective in clinical settings such as hospitals and doctors’ offices where germs can easily stick to hands(1). As long as hands are not heavily dirty or greasy, homemade sanitizer gels can kill certain types of germs on the skin but not all. The only true way to remove all types of germs from hands is by washing them properly with soap and water. Using hand sanitizer is a temporary solution for when hand washing is not available and those using hand sanitizer should still wash their hands as soon as they can to prevent harmful bacteria and parasites from entering the body.
Regina Kaza - Contributing Writer, Physician's Choice