All around the world, stores are completely sold out of hand sanitizer.
Even ingredients for DIY hand sanitizer like rubbing alcohol and Everclear are gone from most stores.
What are you supposed to do to protect yourself?
Don’t worry. Here are some recipes for homemade hand sanitizer you can make which are all at least 60% alcohol, including alternative ingredients for those that are out of stock.
- Hand sanitizer isn’t a substitute for hand washing. For removing pathogens including viruses from your hands, wash your hands with soap for at least 20 seconds.
- DIY hand sanitizer must be 60% to 70% alcohol. Formulations at lower strengths will not effectively kill viruses or other pathogens.
- 100% alcohol is NOT more effective than 60%. Alcohol kills pathogens through a process called protein denaturation. Studies like this one have shown that higher concentrations of alcohol don’t kill viruses better than 60% alcohol. The alcohol needs a bit of water to be effective. Further, pure alcohol would evaporate too quickly to be effective.
- Using large quantities will not compensate for a low percentage of alcohol. For example, you can’t use a lot of vodka to make up for the fact it is only about 40% alcohol.
- Do not apply rubbing alcohol directly to your hands. This will dry out your hands and cause them to crack. Open skin will be more susceptible to picking up pathogens.
- Hand sanitizer only works if you use it correctly. Read the CDC’s guide on how to use hand sanitizer here.
- Get some hand moisturizer: Even at 60% alcohol content, hand sanitizer will dry out your hands quickly and cause them to crack. Protect yourself by applying hand cream often. I use a zinc-based diaper rash cream and it works well.
DIY Hand Sanitizer Recipes
Here are a collection of 7 DIY hand sanitizer recipes you can use.
1. World Health Organization’s Hand Sanitizer Recipe
Here are the WHO’s instructions for homemade hand sanitizer. I’ve scaled down the amounts to make 1 liter. You can find the original instructions here.
- Ethanol alcohol 96%: 833ml
- Hydrogen peroxide 3%: 42ml
- Glycerol 98%: 15ml
- Distilled water: 110ml
- Isopropyl alcohol 99.8%: 752ml
- Hydrogen peroxide 3%: 42ml
- Gylcerol 98%: 15ml
- Distilled water: 191ml
*Isopropyl alcohol is generally recommended over ethanol alcohol because it doesn’t evaporate as quickly, meaning it will have more time to work on germs. (Source)
**The glycerol is used as an emollient to protect the hands from drying out. WHO states that you can use another emollient if you do not have glycerol.
- First add the alcohol to a 1 liter bottle
- Then add the hydrogen peroxide and glycerol (or other emollient)
- Top off the bottle with distilled water to make 1 liter
- Immediately screw a lid onto the bottle
- Gently shake the bottle to mix the ingredients together
- The solution can now be poured into smaller bottles, if desired
2. DIY Hand Sanitizer with Isopropyl Alcohol and Aloe Vera
This is the most common DIY hand sanitizer recipe you’ll find. It uses isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol) as a disinfectant and aloe vera as an emollient. The aloe helps sooth and protect the hands from getting too dried out.
- 2 parts isopropyl alcohol
- 1 part aloe vera gel (not aloe vera juice!)
- Optional: A few drops of essential oils
- Carefully measure the ingredients and pour them into a bottle.
- Put a lid on the bottle and shake the ingredients together until they are mixed.
- Label the bottle.
3. DIY Hand Sanitizer without Aloe Vera
Have alcohol but can’t find aloe vera? You can use any of the products below as an alternative to aloe vera in the hand sanitizer recipe above.
4. Using Perfume to Make Hand Sanitizer
Perfumes are made by mixing scented oils in a solvent. And guess what that solvent is? Alcohol. Fragrances are actually classified by how much scent they have. A mixture with a lower amount of oil and higher amount of alcohol is called an Eau.
- Perfume: 20-30% scent oils
- Eau de Parfum: 15-20% scent oils
- Eau de Toilette: 5-15% scent oils
- Eau de Cologne: 2-4% scent oils
- Eau Fraiche: 1-3% scent oils
*The remaining amount is mostly alcohol and a bit of water
This is good news: Cheaper products will have higher amounts of alcohol. So, you don’t need to buy an expensive bottle of perfume to make hand sanitizer. Perfume is still more expensive than rubbing alcohol, but it might be your only option when rubbing alcohol isn’t available.
How do I know how much alcohol is in perfume?
If you look carefully on the package, you might see VOL with a % listed. This is the percentage of alcohol the product contains. A perfume with an 80% VOL would contain 80% alcohol.
Unfortunately, most perfume and cologne manufacturers don’t list the exact amount of alcohol used in their products. According to Wikipedia, colognes have 80-90% alcohol with 5-15% water. “Toilet water” products are 60-80% alcohol.
For example, the Body Shop Fuji Green Tea Eau De Cologne, for example, contains 68% alcohol. This Eau de cologne is 62.5% alcohol.
Making Hand Sanitizer from Perfume
Once you know how much alcohol is in the perfume, you can do some math to find out how much aloe (or alternative) to mix with it to make a mixture with at least 60% alcohol.
5. Making Hand Sanitizer from Herbal Tinctures
Herbal tinctures are made by soaking medicinal plants in alcohol. Most tinctures use a low percentage of alcohol (around 50%) and are thus not suitable for making your own hand sanitizer. However, if you do some sleuthing, you can find tinctures which have high amounts of alcohol in them.
As with the perfume hand sanitizer recipe above, this gets expensive quickly. It just goes to show how you can blow through your savings during a disaster if you weren’t able to prepare supplies like hand sanitizer ahead of time!
Once you have your tincture and know how much alcohol it contains, do some math to figure out how much aloe vera to add to it to get a mixture of at least 60% alcohol.
6. Using Vodka
No, you can’t just rub vodka on your hands to disinfect them. Vodka is only about 40% alcohol and thus does not have a high enough percentage of alcohol to kill germs like viruses. However, you can distill vodka to make it a higher percentage of alcohol. This can then be mixed with aloe vera to make a 60% alcohol hand sanitizer.
Read how to distill vodka into Everclear here.
7. Using Everclear (190 Proof Grain Alcohol)
Everclear is the strongest drinking alcohol you can buy. It’s usually 190 proof, which means it is 95% alcohol. This can be mixed with aloe vera to make your own hand sanitizer.
You might get lucky and be able to find Everclear in your liquor store. However, it’s also been largely sold out because of the coronavirus pandemic. What can you do? Now might be the time to learn how to distill your own Everclear (you are stuck at home anyway!).
Here’s a good book to get you started.