The recent stock shortages might have you scanning Pinterest for DIY hand sanitizer recipes. While this quarantine is a great time for lots of DIY projects, homemade hand sanitizer isn’t one of them.
Technically, yes, you can make hand sanitizer at home. However, experts disagree on whether the recipes really work.
If you’re in a pinch, though, is a homemade batch better than nothing?
Should You Make Your Own Hand Sanitizer?
When it comes to combatting a deadly virus, you should always play it safe, to say the least. Unfortunately, this doesn’t include homemade hand sanitizer. It’s just not likely to be as effective at killing germs as a professional brand or good old-fashioned handwashing.
The reason medical experts warn against home recipes is the conditions in your home just aren’t ideal for making sanitizer. Even in a clean kitchen, it’s all too easy to accidentally contaminate your sanitizer, rendering it useless. You can’t magically turn your home into a safe, sterile sanitizer factory.
You also don’t have a way to catch human errors in your measurements. Factories have quality control to check for issues, but at home, you have to trust your own judgment. If you measure incorrectly or add the wrong ingredient, you might never realize it.
This can leave you using an ineffective sanitizer and unwittingly spreading germs. Even worse, some mixtures might burn your skin or create dangerous fumes.
Making your own sanitizer is also complicated by the fact that everyone else is doing it, so it’s unlikely you’ll even be able to get the ingredients you need.
Also, keep in mind that even an effective sanitizer doesn’t kill and remove germs as well as handwashing does. If you’re stuck at home, you’re much better off using soap and water. Save the sanitizer for situations in which you aren’t able to wash your hands.
Does Homemade Sanitizer Work?
The effectiveness of a sanitizer hinges on how much alcohol it contains. For a homemade sanitizer to work, it must be comprised of at least 60 percent alcohol. Alcohol messes up the protective envelopes of bacteria and viruses so they’re no longer infectious. Some germs are impervious even to hand sanitizer, but, thankfully, the coronavirus isn’t one of them. Without enough alcohol in the mix, sanitizer can’t kill viruses.
One popular recipe you might have seen calls for one part aloe vera gel and two parts 91-percent rubbing alcohol. According to The New York Times, this mix will leave you just barely safe, with a sanitizer that’s 60.6 percent alcohol.
That’s not a very large margin for error. Drop below 60 percent alcohol, and you have a sanitizer that doesn’t kill many germs. If the alcohol content is too high, though, you run the risk of drying out your skin and stripping it of necessary oils.
Unless you have an alcoholometer and know how to use it (which is unlikely), there’s no way to know if your homemade sanitizer has a safe concentration of alcohol. Most “home” recipes you see online weren’t intended for public use. Rather, these are for professionals who have the knowledge and tools to safely make their own sanitizer.
While some experts say it’s okay to make your own sanitizer, overall, the idea is risky at best. A home recipe’s effectiveness depends on your ability to find pharmacy-grade ingredients, measure them perfectly, store them properly, and avoid contaminating the mix. There’s a lot that can go wrong. It’s better to have no hand sanitizer at all than to have one you think is working, but isn’t.
So, while it’s not impossible to make an effective homemade sanitizer, it’s much more difficult than you might think. Because so much can go wrong, unless you’re under extreme circumstances, we can’t recommend that you try to make your own sanitizer.
It’s much better to just use soap and water. Wash your hands often and for at least 20 seconds each time. Don’t touch your face unless you’ve just washed your hands, and, of course, follow the social distancing guidelines.
Even the best hand sanitizer can’t compete with handwashing—and homemade sanitizer is rarely as good as a professional brand. So, ignore all those recipes you see on social media. This DIY project is best left alone.