Is Homemade Hand Sanitizer Safe? Read Before You DIY

As more news develops on the potential for community spread of the novel coronavirus, the priority for just about everyone is to keep themselves and their families healthy and germ-free for the foreseeable future. However noble that goal is, it hasn’t stopped people everywhere from going a little too far and making ill-advised choices along the way.

Whether it’s wearing face masks despite being told to not do that or buying up products they won’t necessarily need in bulk (and, no, we’re not talking about the reasonable pantry-stocking, prescription pick-ups), the over-zealous shoppers among us have made a number of those products scarce. Chief among them? Hand sanitizers. To make up for the low supply, people have resorted to posting and attempting DIY recipes for making hand sanitizer at-home. But, uh, is this a good idea?

In short: Nope.

First off, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has plenty of science-backed guidance about the most effective way to keep your hands clean.

(The TL;DR is wash them thoroughly and regularly with soap and water.)

“CDC recommends washing hands with soap and water whenever possible because hand washing reduces the amounts of all types of germs and chemicals on hands. But if soap and water are not available, using a hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol can help you avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others,” the agency writes on their website. “Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can quickly reduce the number of microbes on hands in some situations, but sanitizers do not eliminate all types of germs. Why? Soap and water are more effective than hand sanitizers at removing certain kinds of germs, like Cryptosporidium, norovirus, and Clostridium difficile1-5.”

Per the CDC, hand sanitizers aren’t the preferred cleaning method anyway — because people are less likely to use them right: “People may not use a large enough volume of the sanitizers or may wipe it off before it has dried.” They also note that hand sanitizer can be less effective when hands are visible dirty or greasy or when removing harmful chemicals (like pesticides). While they’re great in hospitals and clinical areas, in community settings (food service, outdoor environments playing sports, fishing, working in gardens) are less likely to see the solid results of soap and water.

Also, you probably aren’t going to be able to make one that works.

When it comes to DIY-ing it, you run the risk of making something that isn’t necessarily safe or effective.

Per the CDC, an effective hand sanitizer needs an alcohol concentration between 60 and 95 percent to really be effective. A smaller concentration may not work or just slow the growth of germs instead of killing them (leading to dry hands for no good reason).  And, when it comes to the plentiful DIY recipes cropping up online (and the World Health Organization (WHO)-endorsed recipe that is meant for professionals in areas without access to other resources), there’s a real chance of creating something that’s a lame duck or way too strong.

As one (clearly tired) pharmacist said on twitter “oh, just use soap. If you screw 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.” Yikes.

Even Titos — a vodka that at the very least tastes like it can sterilize a wound — dropped a statement discouraging folks from trying to make use of their product in this kind of recipe, noting that their vodka is only 40 percent alcohol and falls short of the CDC’s 60 percent recommendation.

Wholesome as that Pinterest or Facebook post recipe might seem, these hedge-witch concoctions are a crap shoot and odds are your craft isn’t going to lead you to a cleaner, germ-free future. So, again, please, loud enough for the people in the back: Wash your hands and wash them well. 

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