You Shouldn't Use Alcohol to Clean Your Hands. Ever.

Melissa Matthews
·3 min read
Photo credit: Jason Speakman
Photo credit: Jason Speakman

From Men's Health

Finding cleaning supplies and hand sanitizer can be difficult during the coronavirus pandemic. You may be tempted to use whatever you have at home, like rubbing alcohol or even liquor, if you can't find certain items online or in the store.

Although alcohol is found on the ingredients list for hand sanitizer and cleaners, not all alcohol is strong enough to kill germs, according to Robert Glatter, M.D., Men’s Health advisor and emergency physician at Lenox Hill.

Here's what you should know.

Can you use alcohol or liquor to clean?

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention recommends using an EPA-registered disinfectant, soap and water, or diluted bleach, to clean your home. To make a bleach solution, simply mix four teaspoons of bleach per quart of water.

Theoretically, regular rubbing alcohol can be used to disinfect hard objects, according to Good Housekeeping. However, the surface must remain wet for at least 30 seconds to neutralize bacteria. The 70 percent alcohol content causes the liquid to evaporate quickly, which makes this method ineffective.

Most liquor, like Tito's vodka, contains alcohol concentrations of about 40 percent, meaning they're too weak to get rid of bacteria.

Your best bet is to use soap and water or bleach if cleaning products are unavailable.

Can you use alcohol or liquor as hand sanitizer?

Soap and water should always be your go-to for clean hands.

"Hand sanitizer shouldn’t be your first choice to reduce the risk of infection," says Dr. Glatter.

Be sure to wash between your fingers and under your fingernails for at least 20 seconds.

Of course, washing your hands isn't always possible. That's when a commercially-made hand sanitizer can be used, according to the CDC. Be sure to pick one that contains at least 60 percent alcohol.

Experts strongly advise against making your own hand sanitizer. Here's why: The minimum recommended level for sanitizer using isopropyl alcohol is 70 percent in the final product and 60 percent when using ethyl alcohol. But achieving this mixture perfectly can be difficult at home, says Birnur Aral, PhD and the Health, Beauty and Environmental Sciences Director at the Good Housekeeping Institute. In other words, most at-home mixtures would be ineffective.

"Another important caveat is that even when used topically, isopropyl alcohol dehydrates the skin, and may even cause superficial burns. More importantly, damaged skin places you at higher risk for skin infections," says Dr. Glatter.

As for liquor, again, most are not strong enough to clean your hands. In fact, Tito's warned customers not to use their vodka for disinfectant purposes on Twitter.

Stronger alcohol, like Everclear, may technically kill viruses and bacteria, but is still not recommended.

"The excessive alcohol content will excessively dry out your hands, making it too irritating to tolerate," says Dr. Glatter.

Bottom line: It's not always possible to wash your hands, like when you're grocery shopping. If that's the case, avoid touching your face, and wash your hands the moment you get home.

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