One of the ways that coronavirus can get passed along is through your hands. So you might touch a surface which has the virus, then you touch your nose or mouth and that then infects your respiratory tract. Even if you don’t fall into the high risk category, it’s not a pleasant disease to have, and you risk passing it on to someone who is more vulnerable. Health authorities around the world agree that one of the most important things you can do to help minimize the spread of coronavirus is to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water and to use hand sanitizer when this is not possible. So naturally people have been buying up hand sanitizer and in some places, stock is not meeting the demand so there is a shortage. This has seen a lot of DIY hand sanitizer recipes being shared through social media for those that either cannot get hand sanitizer because it’s sold out or those who are required, or are choosing to self-isolate and can’t go out (ideally we should all be doing this). And then there are those who prefer to make their own to avoid “the chemicals” that go into store-bought hand sanitizers.
Now I truly believe that the people who are sharing these recipes for homemade hand sanitizers have good intentions, but herein lies the problem; making a hand sanitizer that is effective against the Coronavirus is not as easy as it sounds. Most of the DIY hand sanitizer recipes that are being shared on social media may be anti-bacterial, but don’t actually work for coronavirus. So if you are using a hand sanitizer that you think is working, but it’s not, then you are putting yourself at risk of not only contracting the virus, but spreading it as well.
At a time when we need to be vigilant in trying to minimize the spread of this worldwide pandemic, this article aims to take a look at the recommendations for making your own hand sanitizer as well as look at some of the popular DIY hand sanitizer recipes making their way around the Internet to see which ones are effective, and which ones are not, so you can make more informed decisions when it comes to your health.
First, we will look at the World Health Organization recommended hand sanitizer formulations which will work if you make them properly.
You can find the directions and information for these recipes here.
Now both of these are effective. It should also be noted that the World Health Organization says these recipes are meant to be used if you do not have access to a commercial product. Commercially produced hand sanitizers contain a lot of inactive ingredients which help the product work better, for example, thickening agents which makes it easier to spread on your hands.
There are three components to these recipes, the first of which is a high concentration of alcohol. You need a high concentration of 60% – 95% alcohol to effectively kill viruses. The CDC also recommends that a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol concentration is required to kill the virus. [Ref.1, Ref.2].
A concentration of alcohol of 60% or more is high enough to be able to breakdown the coronavirus envelope and neutralize the enzymes inside it, so that it can’t affect you.
The next ingredient is Glycerol, or more commonly known as glycerin in beauty products, which is a humectant moisturizer. It’s there to keep your hands moisturized because alcohol can dry out your skin. If you substitute Glycerin with another moisturizing ingredient, you should be using something that’s water-based, as opposed to oil-based. Alcohol based hand sanitizers don’t work well on greasy hands. The grease can actually help protect viruses.
And finally, Hydrogen peroxide is also included in a low concentration and is actually there to kill any remaining bacterial spores in your ingredients and on your equipment. It’s not actually an active ingredient to kill germs on your hands. In the guide from the WHO to making these hand sanitizers, there is a lot of information about properly sterilizing your containers and quality control, if you are using these in a sterile setting. If your main concern is making a hand sanitizer that will just effectively kill the coronavirus, then the hydrogen peroxide may not be as important and your main concern should be the high concentration of alcohol.
Apart from alcohol, there is nothing as of now, that is known to be effective against the coronavirus. It’s also important to note that this includes things like benzalkonium chloride, which is the active ingredient in most off-the-shelf alcohol-free hand sanitizers, which are not recommended by the WHO or the CDC. This is because alcohol-free hand sanitizers work well against most bacteria, but generally not on viruses.
Now there are LOADS of alcohol-free ‘all natural’ recipes for hand sanitizers out there claiming that essential oils are effective against fighting germs. What’s important to understand is that even if an essential oil has found to have disinfectant or even anti-viral properties, this does not mean it will be effective against the coronavirus. So far there has not been any medical documentation or research to support that anything other than alcohol is effective against the coronavirus. Even if there is an essential oil that is found to be effective, the concentration of that essential oil is important, just like for alcohol. If there isn’t enough, it’s not going to work and the research and data on the effectiveness of any essential oil on the coronavirus and how much of it you would need to use, just does not exist yet.
So if you come across any of these hand sanitizer recipes that are all a variation of something with a few drops of essential oil added, without alcohol, they are not going to work. There are loads out there – here are just a few of the examples floating around out.
None of these are effective against the coronavirus. You’ll notice that there are a few of the recipes above that contain something called doTERRA On Guard. doTERRA does make a sanitizing mist that does actually work. The reason it works and they can sell it as a sanitizing mist is because it contains a high concentration of alcohol, in addition to the essential oils. The alcohol is the active ingredient, not the essential oils.
concentration, concentration, concentration
What makes making DIY hand sanitizer tricky is figuring out the final concentration of alcohol. When leading health authorities, the World Health Organization and the Centres for Disease Control are all recommending a hand sanitizer with at least a 60% alcohol. The 60% is not referring to the strength of the alcohol used in the recipe, but rather that 60% of the final product needs to be alcohol. This is what leads to a lot of confusion. This does not mean you can just add a few drops of 60% alcohol to a huge tub of aloe vera gel. That’s not going to work.
This is a popular hand sanitizer recipe that is going around that does work if you are using the recommended 99% alcohol. But if you substitute this recipe with a 60% alcohol, it is no longer effective against Coronoavirus.
The recommended concentration of alcohol of your hand sanitizer needs to be at least 60%, that’s roughly a two parts to one ratio. So if you are using 95-99% alcohol, and you are using 2 parts to one (one being the rest of the ingredients), then you are above the 60% alcohol concentration required to make an effective hand sanitizer.
To help make things easier to understand, the blue chart below shows how much of a percentage the final concentration of alcohol your hand sanitizer will be if you are using a 2:1 ratio with alcohol or alcohol products of different strengths. As you can see, if you are using an alcohol product with a strength of less than 80%, it will not be effective, using the recipe above.
The green chart shows how many mL of alcohol you need to use in a 100mL bottle of hand sanitizer, based on the strength of the alcohol product used.
If you are using any alcohol product that is less than 60% alcohol, your hand sanitizer will never be at the 60% alcohol concentration that is required to be effective. For example, Witch Hazel contains 15-30% alcohol. If this is your sole source of alcohol in your recipe, your final product can never be 60% alcohol. Let’s take a look at a recipe that uses witch hazel as it’s only source of alcohol.
Alcohol-Free Hand Sanitizer
1/2 cup pure aloe vera gel
1/4 cup witch hazel
1/4 cup distilled water
20 drops melaleuca essential oil
15 drops lemon essential oil
15 drops white fir essential oil
1/2 tsp vitamin E
Even if you use the strongest witch hazel at 30%, the final alcohol concentration of this hand sanitizer is only 4.95%. This is a far cry from the 60% needed to protect you.
For recipes that contain drinking alcohol, like vodka, remember that normal spirits contain about 40% alcohol, which will result in a hand sanitizer with a less than 60% concentration. It’s also important to note that if you see recipes referring to the ‘proof’ of the alcohol, proof is double the concentration. For example a 90 proof bottle of alcohol has 45% alcohol. If you are thinking of using drinking alcohol as your alcohol product in your hand sanitizer, it has to be at least 60%, or 120 proof.
We’ve established that you need a concentration of 60% alcohol (or higher) for your hand sanitizer, so why not just use straight alcohol without all the other ingredients and be extra sure? There are a few reasons for not using pure alcohol. First, it’s very drying for your skin, but more importantly, alcohol evaporates quickly. If it evaporates before it’s had a chance to kill the virus, it’s not helping you. Having a water-based additive reduces the rate of evaporation so that the alcohol stays on your hands longer. It’s recommended that you apply a liberal amount of hand sanitizer to cover your hands completely and let them air dry.
Just to recap, here are some things to remember…
1. washing your hands with soap and water is the most effective way to clean your hands. Hand sanitizer is only recommended when washing your hands is not possible.
2. In order to kill the virus, your hand sanitizer must have an alcohol concentration of 60% or higher.
3. Essential oils smell nice, but they do not kill the coronavirus.
4. Don’t believe everything you read on social media.