istockphoto.com / galitskaya

As worry about the spread of coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, continues to grow, hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes and the like are selling out quickly. While supermarkets and pharmacies seem to be perpetually out of stock, online retailers like Amazon are price gouging (would you pay $73 for a three-pack of Clorox wipes? $75.80 for a single bottle of Purell?). If you’re having trouble finding hand sanitizer and want to learn to make your own, read on.

How To Know It’s (Probably) Effective

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says that homemade hand sanitizer works just fine as long as it’s at least 60 percent alcohol. Studies show that sanitizers with a concentration of 60-95 percent alcohol are more effective at killing germs than those outside that range.

Nevertheless, distinct hand sanitizers within that range might not work equally well for every germ, plus some may only reduce germs’ growth rather than kill them altogether. Hand sanitizer also may not be as effective on visibly dirty or greasy hands, so wash with soap and water first if that’s the case. They also aren’t guaranteed to remove harmful chemicals like pesticides and heavy metals—you should suds up before applying if these are on your hands, too.

And no, you can’t use just any liquor in your cabinet at home. Tito’s Handmade Vodka reminded the world that because the spirit is only 40 percent alcohol, it’s not up to the CDC’s standards for DIY sanitizer. This was after a Twitter user said they made their own with the vodka.

There Are Critics

While this seems like a great alternative in the midst of a nationwide shortage, some sources don’t recommend DIY hand sanitizer. It turns out that it’s easier than you may think to mess up the recipe. If the ratio is off, it can be too weak to be effective. On the flip side, it can also be too harsh on your skin without the emollients found in store-bought hand sanitizer that protect your skin against drying alcohol. Your hands could crack and bleed if they get too dry (ouch)—that’s why most recipes include hydrating aloe vera. It’s tough to get the ratio and percentages as exact as store brands do.

The odds of messing it up all depend on the recipe. Many use isopropyl alcohol (that’s 99 percent rubbing alcohol), for instance, instead of ethanol (ethyl alcohol). The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states that the minimum recommended amount of isopropyl alcohol in hand sanitizer should be 70 percent. Many recipes call for ⅔ cup of isopropyl, which comes out to about 66 percent alcohol. Some recipes also suggest using essential oils, but besides making it a little easier on the nose, these are basically useless against viruses.

This one self-proclaimed professional compounding pharmacist took to twitter to say “Oh just use soap. If you screw it up and don’t use enough alcohol, your homebrew won’t work, and even if you do, most homemade versions dry your skin too much making it MORE vulnerable to infection.”

You could try sticking to the recipe from the World Health Organization (WHO), but it’s meant for making large quantities for parts of the world where clean water and store-bought sanizer are scarce or nonexistent. At the end of the day, hand sanitizer is simply a great alternative for when you can’t find water and soap; hand washing is the best way to prevent coronavirus (and any germ) transmission. You may find it best to leave it up to the manufacturers and professionals—after all, it’s technically an over-the-counter drug monitored by the FDA.

How to Make It 

While soap and water are your best defense, they aren’t always available. Hand sanitizer can be super convenient in these situations. If you decide to whip some up after all, there are lots of recipes to choose from. We’d suggest this formula shared by CBS News, approved by Dr. David Agus, MD, a professor of medicine and engineering and one of the world’s top physicians. You’ll need a mixing bowl, spoon, funnel, a two-ounce spray bottle or liquid soap container and something to label your concoction with.

Here’s what they recommend you use:

  • ⅔ cup of rubbing alcohol
  • ⅓ cup of aloe vera gel
  • 5-10 drops of essential oil (optional)

Here’s how to make it:

  • Pour the alcohol and aloe vera gel into a bowl and stir. Stop when blended
  • Add drops of the essential oil (optional) and stir to mask the harsh scent of the alcohol.
  • Funnel it into your container or bottle and label it.

See the DIY video from CBS News below:

How to Use It

This may seem like a no-brainer, but let’s be honest: We weren’t all washing our hands for 20 seconds every time before the coronavirus, were we? The CDC recommends that you apply hand sanitizer to the palm of one hand and rub it in all over your hands until it’s dry. Be sure to keep it away from the kids—store bought or not—and be there to help them apply. It’s also a good idea to read the CDC’s guide to hand washing and go over it with the kids.