How to make your own hand sanitizer at home — and whether it can be effective
- You can make your own hand sanitizer at home with isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol) and either aloe vera gel or glycerin.
- Hand sanitizer needs to contain at least 60% alcohol to kill germs, and by following our recipe below, you should be able to make an effective sanitizer that can help prevent the spread of viruses and bacteria.
- However, the hand sanitizer you can buy in stores must undergo more rigorous testing to ensure a 60% alcohol content throughout the mixture, so commercial products are likely your safest option.
- This article was medically reviewed by Jason R. McKnight, MD, MS, a family medicine physician and clinical assistant professor at Texas A&M College of Medicine.
- This story is part of Insider’s guide on How to Kill Germs.
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 at home
Erum Ilyas, MD, a dermatologist in Pennsylvania, started making her own hand sanitizer when her practice faced shortages during the coronavirus outbreak.
The doctors used homemade hand sanitizer in their offices, and reserved commercially-made hand sanitizer for interactions with patients. “At home hand sanitizer is not necessarily a bad idea and not that difficult to make overall,” Ilyas says.
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, says Jenelle Kim, an herbalist and founder of JBK Wellness Labs.
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,” Kim says.
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
- 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.
- Mix thoroughly with your spoon or whisk to ensure that the alcohol is evenly distributed throughout the gel.
- 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.
- 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.
Is DIY hand sanitizer safe and effective?
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.
This is one of the downsides to homemade hand sanitizer: it’s hard to know the exact alcohol content. That’s why Ilyas and the doctors at her practice reserved commercially-made sanitizer for use with patients.
“We simply do not believe we can ensure the concentration of alcohol in each pump will be consistently high enough to kill viruses with our homemade version,” she says.
To make effective hand sanitizer at home, follow the recipe carefully and take some precautions, says Alan Dietrich, CEO of Crater Lake Spirits, a distillery that has started making hand sanitizer during the pandemic.
“Home recipes can be easily contaminated with an incorrect ingredient, measurement, or insufficient alcohol to kill germs,” Dietrich says. “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, Dietrich says.
How to properly use your homemade sanitizer
Homemade sanitizer is often more runny than commercially-made sanitizers, so it can be difficult to use, Dietrich says. 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.
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