The No. 1 reason to use hand sanitizer is to reduce your chances of becoming risk by transferring germs from your hands to your face, especially your mouth and nose.
Without even realizing it you likely touch your face with your hands many times every single hour — and this is a bad news, considering that dangerous viruses and bacteria (including the novel coronavirus) can live on surfaces like metal and plastic for up to several days, and on cardboard for a full day.
By cleaning your hands — ideally via regular hand washing throughout the day, but also with help from hand sanitizers — you can drastically cut down the amount of harmful microbes you pass from your environment to your body.
Hand Sanitizer Shortage
Beginning around March, 2020, as worldwide concerns over the Covid-19 pandemic really began to take hold, many stores experienced a shortage of hand sanitizer, bleach and other disinfecting products. Even if you’d never been the type of person to carry around hand sanitizer in your bag or pocket before, there’s a good chance that practically overnight you suddenly became one.
If you’ve had no luck finding hand sanitizer in stores, or you’re worried about not being able to find more in the near future, here’s the good news: You can make your own homemade version using some basic ingredients you’d find in a drug store or online.
The Nebraska Medical Center told CNN that they recommend using the following Homemade Hand Sanitizer ingredients and supplies:
- 2/3 cup 91 percent isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol, the main disinfecting ingredient)
- 1/3 cup aloe vera gel (which is soothing to skin and also helps to bind the ingredients together)
- Optional: tea tree essential oil (you can also add other essential oils such as lemon or orange to give your hand sanitizer a fragrance). While Nebraska Medical Center/CNN haven’t specifically recommended tea tree oil, we believe it makes a good addition to homemade hand sanitizers considering studies show it has natural antimicrobial and antiviral effects. You may also want to vitamin E oil to help calm and nourish your skin, keeping it hydrated and clean.
- Mixing bowl and spoon, plus a small container, such as a 3 oz. travel bottle.
*Note: you do NOT want to use regular drinking alcohol such as vodka when making sanitizer. The key to effectively disinfecting your hands is to use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol. Vodka and similar liquors typically contains between 35 percent and 46 percent alcohol, far lower than isopropyl alcohol which is around 90 percent alcohol.
You also need to be sure to use enough rubbing alcohol in your recipe. Not using enough will dilute the strength of your sanitizer, making it less effective.
Where can you buy rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol)? Look for it at pharmacies, drug stores and large grocery stores. It’s typically sold in 32 ounce bottles and is inexpensive. You may even have rubbing alcohol at home already, such as in a first aid kit.
If you don’t have all the ingredients listed above, you can try an alternative homemade hand sanitizer recipe recommended by the World Health Organization: combine 96 percent ethanol or a 99.8 percent isopropyl, plus a 3 percent concentration of hydrogen peroxide (which helps to kill bacteria) plus glycerol (a ski moisturizer) and distilled water.
How to Make
Here are directions for making a Homemade Hand Sanitizer using the ingredients mentioned above:
- In a mixing bowl or ideally a blender, stir together your main hand sanitizer ingredients (isopropyl alcohol and aloe vera gel) until combined. A blender will likely give you the best results since it can be hard to mix alcohol and aloe by hand.
- Add the tea tree essential oil and vitamin E oil and stir or blend to incorporate.
- Pour the homemade hand sanitizer into an empty container. A bottle with a flip top may be best for easily getting the mixture out. It will stay good for several months or longer.
How to Use
- Apply a good amount of sanitizer to your palms then rub your hands together so you cover all surfaces. Be sure to rub your fingers and tops of your hands too. Keep rubbing until your hands feel dry.
- Let the sanitizer sit on your hands for at least 30 seconds (don’t wash it off right away, since alcohol needs time to work). You should wash your hands once you’re near a sink, and definitely before you eat or use the bathroom, however letting your hands completely dry first is a good indicator that the alcohol has been absorbed.
- If you are able to find sanitizer in stores, look for one with at least 60 percent alcohol, or ideally up to 95 percent ethanol or isopropanol. Avoid alcohol-free sanitizers since they may not be as effective, and also skip products that contain triclosan, an antibacterial agent that some medical professionals think can reduce the effectiveness of a hand sanitizer.
Vs. Hand Washing
While a bottle of sanitizer can be a convenient way to help cleanse your hands when you’re out and about, without access to soap and water, it shouldn’t replace regular hand-washing.
The CDC and most other health authorities consider hand washing with soap to be the “gold standard” for maintaining hand hygiene. This means that when soap isn’t available, use a hand sanitizer, but if you can wash your hands instead, do this.
How does the effectiveness of sanitizer compare to hand washing?
Washing your hands thoroughly with soap and water for at least 2o seconds (ideally about 40 seconds) is believed to be somewhat better at killing germs compared to lathering on sanitizer (rinsing with water alone, however, won’t help much to keep your hands clean). For example, sanitizers won’t kill certain types of bacteria that can cause illnesses linked to diarrhea and digestive problems.
The reason that soap is so effective at killing germs, including those that cause Covid-19, is because it dissolves and breaks through the fatty outer layer of the virus particles that are made up of lipids. This causes the particles to break apart and die, leaving them incapable of infecting someone.
Alcohol has a similar effect at dissolving germs, but sanitizer doesn’t actually remove the germs, dirt or debris from your hands like washing them does. Soap will cause germs to deconstruct, plus it will bind to them and remove them from your hands once you rinse them. To keep yourself protected from germs, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly before, during and after you visit a public place, have contact with people, eat and use the bathroom.
In addition to being somewhat less effective than soap at killing a range of pathogens, too much hand sanitizer can be drying and irritating, especially if you have sensitive skin. Alcohol causes water loss in the skin and can lead to redness and other cracking if you over-do it, so try to use it when necessary but not all day long.
When it comes to both hand sanitizers (including those that are homemade) and other disinfectants, remember that under no circumstance should these products be ingested or put into the human body in other ways. They are only meant for cleaning your hands and/or surfaces in your home, never for “cleaning your insides.”
- To make your own homemade hand sanitizer, you’ll need the following ingredients: isopropyl alcohol, aloe vera gel, and (optional but recommended) tea tree essential oil.
- The proper way to apply sanitizer in order to help kill germs is to apply a generous amount to your hands, rub them together so you cover all parts of your hands, and wait about 20 seconds or more for them to dry.
- While sanitizer is a good option if you’re away from home and can’t wash your hands, it shouldn’t replace regular hand washing with soap and water, which is considered the gold standard for hand hygiene.