If you’ve tried to pick up hand sanitizer recently, you’ve probably noticed it’s sold out just about everywhere right now, from your local drug store to online. While regular hand-washing is your best option to prevent the spread of illness, hand sanitizer can be great in a pinch.
But if you can’t purchase any, don’t panic. Here’s how you can easily make your own hand sanitizer at home with materials that may not be sold out yet.
What Is the Coronavirus (COVID-19)?
COVID-19 is a new-to-humans coronavirus that originated in Wuhan, China. Similar to a cold or the flu, COVID-19 leads to symptoms such as fever, cough and difficulty breathing. The symptoms typically appear within two to 14 days after you’ve been exposed to the virus. Right now, the people who are most at risk for developing the new coronavirus have come into contact with someone who is already sick or traveled to an area with an outbreak.
How to Prevent the Coronavirus
While health experts around the world are working hard to learn more about COVID-19, we do know the virus spreads primarily through respiratory droplets. When someone who has the infection sneezes or coughs, the droplets land on nearby surfaces or in your nose and mouth if you’re in close proximity. Coming into contact with those droplets — by touching a contaminated surface and then touching your face, for example — can lead to the spread of the illness.
For this reason, the best thing you can do to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 is regular hand-washing for at least 20 seconds each time. Doug Roberts, M.D., assistant professor at the University of California Davis Medical School and medical advisor to CreakyJoints, told The Mighty:
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) both recommend common sense preventative strategies to reduce the risk for contracting and spreading infectious diseases, like COVID-19 and flu. In addition to washing hands thoroughly — 20 seconds in duration once the soap is applied — people should also consider these healthy habits such as staying hydrated, eating healthy, exercising, managing their stress and getting enough sleep.
When to Use Hand Sanitizer
When you’re out in public, however, washing your hands after touching a communal surface may not be an immediate option. In the interim, using hand sanitizer can help reduce your risk of infection when you use enough hand sanitizer and allow it to dry completely before wiping it off.
“The CDC recommends washing hands with soap and water. But if that isn’t an option, then hand sanitizer that is 60% alcohol is a good alternative,” Dr. Roberts said. “It can still help people avoid getting sick and spreading illness, though it is not as effective in killing as many germs and pathogens as simple soap and water.”
How to Make Your Own Hand Sanitizer
If you can’t purchase hand sanitizer because it’s all sold out, you can make your own at home. It will also require a trip to the drug store (or your favorite online marketplace) to pick up a few ingredients. “Recipes” for your own hand sanitizer may vary slightly. The most important thing to remember is you need to create a mixture that’s at least 60% alcohol.
91% or higher isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol) or ethanol alcohol
Aloe vera gel or glycerin
Essential oils (optional)
Bowl and spoon
Storage bottle or container
Combine ⅔ cup of 91% or higher alcohol with ⅓ cup of aloe vera gel or glycerin in a bowl and stir until blended.
Getting your ratios right in this step is critical. By combining two parts of 91% or higher alcohol with one part softening agent, you’ll land at about 60% alcohol content in the final product. Hand sanitizer that’s less than 60% alcohol will not be effective.
You can also increase the alcohol content to about 68% by combining ¾ cup of 91% or higher alcohol with ¼ cup of aloe or glycerin. Aloe or glycerin helps prevent the alcohol from drying out your skin.
Optional: Add 5-10 drops of essential oils to reduce the smell of alcohol.
If you’re sensitive to the strong smell of alcohol, you can add several drops of essential oils to your hand sanitizer. Do not add too much essential oil or you will dilute the alcohol content of your sanitizer below the 60% alcohol threshold. It’s important to note the active ingredient here is the alcohol, not the essential oils.
Bottle your hand sanitizer mixture.
Once your hand sanitizer is mixed and complete, pour the mixture into a container or bottle for use. You can purchase an empty bottle with a squirt top or pump from your local drug store or recycle a washed-out hand sanitizer bottle. If you have a funnel on hand, it can make it easier to pour the hand sanitizer into your storage containers. Once it’s bottled, your hand sanitizer is ready to use!
Can You Make Hand Sanitizer With Vodka?
In a pinch, if you can’t find rubbing alcohol, you may be able to substitute in vodka as the alcohol agent in your hand sanitizer. However, as Tito’s Vodka has been hard at work alerting social media users, substituting in any old vodka will not be effective. Hand sanitizer must be at least 60% alcohol to be effective. Vodka that is 80 proof — the most common vodka alcohol content — is only 40% alcohol.
Tito's Vodka has spent the last 24 hours explaining to people that it *cannot* be used as a replacement for hand sanitizer.
God bless Texas. pic.twitter.com/1J08KlgDPI
— Dom (@DomDiFurio) March 5, 2020
If you’re making your own hand sanitizer, you need to start with a higher (90% or more) alcohol content so when you mix in the aloe or glycerine you don’t dilute the alcohol below 60%.
If you need to substitute vodka into your homemade hand sanitizer as a last resort, look for vodka that is at least 180 proof. This translates to an alcohol content level of 90% ethanol. When mixed with aloe vera or glycerine, a 90% or higher alcohol content will ensure you’re left with a product that meets the 60% hand sanitizer alcohol content effectiveness threshold.
What Vodka Can You Use to Make Hand Sanitizer?
It’s not easy to find vodka with a proof of 180 or higher to create hand sanitizer. Here are the few brands to look for that will work if you can’t find rubbing alcohol. Any vodka lower than 180 proof will require adjusting your hand sanitizer recipe.
Spirytus vodka (192 proof)
Everclear (190 or 189 proof)
Balkan 176° vodka (176 proof; use ¾ cup of alcohol and ¼ cup of aloe or glycerin)
Devil’s Springs vodka (160 proof; use ¾ cup of alcohol and ¼ cup of aloe or glycerin)
Remember that hand sanitizer is best used when you’re not able to wash your hands immediately after touching a public surface — it’s not a replacement for correct hand-washing techniques. In addition to hand-washing and trying not to touch your face, Roberts advised the best thing to do is follow “common-sense precautions.”
“To keep hands clean in public, try to avoid shaking hands or touching objects that are used communally, as much as is practical,” Roberts said. “While it is important to be cautious about COVID-19 and all infectious diseases, including flu, it is also important to not panic. People should use common sense precaution when going about their normal routine.”
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