As people around the globe, and companies across the United States take precautions against COVID-19, disinfecting cleaning products have been selling out at supermarkets and convenience stores nationwide. The shortages and high mark-ups of prices have prompted a surge of interest in DIY disinfectants, specifically hand sanitizer. (And, people are looking online to learn how to do it, as Google searches for hand sanitizer recipe increased 1,750% in the past week.) However, experts say DIY hand sanitizer is an ineffective defense against viral diseases that could actually cause more harm than good.
Dr. Ted Lain, board-certified dermatologist and chief medical officer at Sanova Dermatology, says the first issue is that though you think you're keeping everything clean, you're likely contaminating your instruments. "It is hard to maintain sterility," he explains. "If you don't use properly sanitized tools, the entire mixture will be contaminated." According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), correct sterilizing processes are extensive and include detailed steps for cleaning and wrapping instruments, handling the sterilizer, and monitoring the process.
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Another issue is getting all your measurements just right. "It is also challenging to get the correct alcohol concentration. If you don't, the final product will be ineffective," Lain says. The CDC notes that the only effective hand sanitizers are alcohol-based and have at least 60% alcohol but no more than 95%. If there's not enough alcohol, the solution won't work as well and could just slow down the growth of germs instead of killing them. And what happens if there is too much alcohol in your batch? Then your DIY solution can "absolutely" cause skin irritation, Lain says.
"Washing with soap is more effective at removing germs and debris than alcohol sanitizer anyway."
—Dr. Ted Lain
So, what do you do when your local store and Amazon are fresh out of sanitizer? "The better plan is to wash your hands," Lain says. "Washing with soap is more effective at removing germs and debris than alcohol sanitizer anyway." The CDC explains that washing your hands often, with warm soap and water for at least 20 seconds, is one of the first steps you can take to protect yourself against COVID-19. If soap and water aren't available, hand sanitizer should be your second choice. The agency says that sanitizers don't eliminate all germs and harmful chemicals, and might not be as effective "when hands are visibly dirty or greasy."
Instead of making a faulty product that could irritate your skin, get some soap, which is readily available, and clean your hands frequently.