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You Could Make Hand Sanitizer at Home—but Should You?

As basic hygiene products are becoming harder to come by, many are looking to the Internet to make their own DIY versions.

March 17, 2020
Photo by James Ransom

Now more than ever, home is where many of us are seeking refuge and solace in light of the novel coronavirus. This is a tough time, but we’re here for you—whether it’s a new pantry recipe or a useful tip for your kitchen, here are some ideas to make things run a little more smoothly for you and your loved ones.


As a self-diagnosed germaphobe, I never leave the house without a little spray bottle of hand sanitizer. After shaking hands, spritz. When I get off the subway, spritz. Buckling an airplane seatbelt—you get it. I apply hand sanitizer any time soap and water are unavailable. In the past few weeks, many others have jumped on the sanitizer train. Welcome.

Currently, we’re not only battling a virus: Many are competing with neighbors for their own supply of basic cleaning products like toilet paper, wipes, and hand sanitizer. Some are buying these items in such large quantities that grocery stores and pharmacies are having a hard time keeping them in stock.

As The New York Times recently reported, one Tennessee man purchased thousands of bottles of sanitizer and other antibacterial products from local stores to fuel his business as a third-party Amazon seller, listing them for infinitely higher prices than what he’d originally paid. Amazon banned him for price gouging; in an update posted days later, the man donated his product to a local church to distribute for free.

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Top Comment:
“Sorry to have made you bristle BUT I stand on what i posted. And lastly I'll take being 99% certain and have something rather than nothing to disinfect my hands when nothing else is available to use. You use correct ingredients, use the right ratios and follow instructions correctly there is no scientific reason your mixture will not work. Plus a little faith in the God goes a long way. Food for thought. God Bless you and may you stay well during these harrowing times.”
— Chas373
Comment

If you, like many others, have found yourself without a supply of hand sanitizer and want to have some for moments when soap isn’t available (say, at a trip to the grocery store), it is possible to make your own. According to an interview with Popular Mechanics, a cosmetic chemist recommends a ratio of three parts 99 percent isopropyl alcohol to one part aloe vera gel. However, it’s still challenging to know with absolute certainty that your ratio contains the right amount of alcohol—according to the CDC, effective hand sanitizer is at least 60 percent alcohol.

No isopropyl alcohol available at the store or online? In that case, it’s definitely best to skip the DIY version. While some distilleries have started producing their own sanitizers—ethanol, or ethyl alcohol, which is grain alcohol that we drink in beer, wine, and spirits, is also an approved product in commercial hand sanitizers—you shouldn’t reach for the bottle of vodka in your freezer to make a batch. After a number of people began tweeting that they planned to use Tito’s Vodka to make hand sanitizer, the company reminded users that their vodka is 80 proof, which is only about 40 percent alcohol.

While it’s good to have a bottle of hand sanitizer in your pocket right now. Rebecca Yellin, a New York City–based clinical dietician, told me that hand-washing (and thoroughly drying them after!) is still the most encouraged way to clean hands among medical professionals.

“I wouldn’t tell anyone to rely on homemade concoctions, as the alcohol mixed with the other liquid may end up diluting the alcohol and lowering the percentage,” explained Yellin. “If people can’t get hand sanitizer, they should focus on soap and water hand-washing, and avoid touching objects and their faces in public.”

As we endure this pandemic, let’s keep in mind that, according to the FDA, even commercially produced hand sanitizer does not eliminate viruses entirely. The CDC notes that hand sanitizers can (and should!) be used as a preventative measure when you can’t wash your hands—but only when you can't wash your hands.

If you have the means, consider donating money to your local food bank or relief organization, which are working to provide meals and groceries, supplies, and medical assistance to those in need. The best way to help your community is to search “food bank” and your zip code; we also have a great list of specific resources here.

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • John Freeman
    John Freeman
  • Chas373
    Chas373
  • Morrili
    Morrili
  • sue
    sue
  • mdelgatty
    mdelgatty
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Rebecca Firkser is a freelance food writer and recipe developer. Her work has appeared in a number of publications, among them Food52, TASTE, Edible Manhattan, Extra Crispy, The Strategist, and Bon Appetit's Healthyish. She contributed recipes and words to the book "Breakfast: The Most Important Book About the Best Meal of the Day." Once upon a time, she studied theatre design and art history at Smith College, so if you need a last-minute avocado costume or want to talk about Wayne Thiebaud's cakes, she's your girl.

9 Comments

John F. March 20, 2020
I only shop in Walmart if I'm desperate, but I ended up there searching for hand sanitizer. A sweet young salesperson showed me where it usually is and, of course, it was all sold out. As she went on her way she gave me a beautiful smile and said "Vodka works". LOL.
 
Chas373 March 19, 2020
This is ridiculous! What the article doesn't say is that if you measure correctly and use strong enough alcohol like 95-96% and above you've duplicated what you get with purell or any of the sanitizers. I did it today Aloe Vera Gel and because there was no isopropyl alcohol to be found, I bought Neutral grain spirits. 196 proof which is 95% alcohol content. You mix 2/3 cup alcohol and 1/3 cup aloe vera gel and a splash of peroxide. Mix well and let it sit for an hour to fully dissolve the gel after shaking and you're good to go. Was just at a couple of Drs appts this week, and was using the Purell in each office a good number of times while there. What you make following the directions is identical to the store bought. Smelled just as strong and felt the same. Why do they think everyone can't follow instructions? going without the sanitizer say after you get back into your car and liable to touch your face or mouth by reflex is not preferable to having it. SMH
 
mdelgatty March 20, 2020
I was rather amused at the assumption that readers - ON A RECIPE SITE! - can't do basic math or follow instructions...
 
Author Comment
Rebecca F. March 20, 2020
Good morning! We certainly know F52 readers can do basic math and follow instructions. Indeed, if there's a bit more flour/sugar in a recipe the end result will likely still be delicious.

Since this is a more serious situation we are exercising more caution with our suggestion. As the professionals we (and other outlets) spoke with regarding DIY hand sanitizer, the general agreement was that while you can do it, it is nearly impossible to be 100% certain the mixture is correct, and the recommendation is still to use a commercially produced version if soap and water are unavailable. Have a great day :)
 
Chas373 March 20, 2020
Sorry to have made you bristle BUT I stand on what i posted. And lastly I'll take being 99% certain and have something rather than nothing to disinfect my hands when nothing else is available to use. You use correct ingredients, use the right ratios and follow instructions correctly there is no scientific reason your mixture will not work. Plus a little faith in the God goes a long way. Food for thought. God Bless you and may you stay well during these harrowing times.
 
Morrili March 19, 2020
This is great. I think we should also anticipate running out of soap and other cleaning products. I would love guidance on making those items.
 
sue March 19, 2020
Soap requires a strong base, such as lye. Invest in special cookware and strong gloves, I use to make soap, lots of soap that I sold at crafts fairs. It's not for timid.
 
sue March 19, 2020
Everclear or Graves Grain Alcohol with Aloe Gel. Also good for cleaning any type of adhesive off of glass. Can be used sparingly for medicinal purposes if there's nothing else available and your Governor closes the package stores because their "non-essential," heaven forbid.
 
sue March 19, 2020
they're not their. And no, I haven't had any "medicine."