Hand sanitizer is sold out everywhere. That’s just a fact of life right now. But there are plenty of DIY recipes out there so you can make your own, so I set out to test them. And then I ran into problems.
There’s no guarantee DIY recipes will actually work
The instructions from the World Health Organization are clear: hand sanitizers that are at least 60% alcohol are an acceptable way to disinfect your hands if you don’t have access to soap and water. So you just have to mix alcohol with something else in a 60:40 ratio, right? (Most recipes call for that other ingredient to be aloe vera gel.)
Unfortunately there are some problems. First, experts note that it’s easy to screw up the recipe. You might measure it wrong, or use the wrong concentration of alcohol, for example, or maybe you’re following a recipe that looks good online but doesn’t actually result in the right concentration of alcohol.
Second, rubbing alcohol is really harsh on skin. Your DIY sanitizer will not be as gooey and moisturizing as a fresh bottle of Purell, because there’s a reason companies like Purell spend time and money on developing the right formula for each product. As one pharmacist noted on twitter, this isn’t easy.
There is an official, World Health Organization-endorsed recipe for hand sanitizer, meant to be made by pharmacists in countries where medical supplies are hard to find or have run short. It’s very different from most recipes you’ll find online, in a few respects:
- It calls for hydrogen peroxide to kill spores that may be present in ingredients or on equipment before you start
- It advises against adding perfumes or dyes unless you’re sure they are unlikely to cause irritation or allergy (many homemade recipes call for essential oils, but essential oils aren’t always safe for skin.)
- It provides instructions for measuring the alcohol content after you’re done to be sure it’s mixed properly and that too much alcohol did not evaporate during the process
- It instructs you to place the bottles in “quarantine” for 72 hours so that the newly-made gel can kill any bacterial spores that may have made their way in.
If you’re prepared to do all of the above, and follow directions closely, I suppose you could make your own hand sanitizer. But…why?
DIY hand sanitizer just doesn’t make sense
I figured I’d give the recipe a try, anyway. I headed to Target intending to buy aloe gel, alcohol, and maybe also some glycerol to try the WHO’s version too.
I was scanning the shelves looking for aloe gel when, I kid you not, I overheard two employees stocking shelves nearby talking about this very topic. It went something like this:
“…[somebody] said you can make your own with aloe vera gel and vodka! I said, I’ll drink the vodka!”
“Now, why can’t you use [rubbing] alcohol?”
“You can! But we’re out of that too.”
Welp, so much for that. Turns out Target was out of alcohol, and hydrogen peroxide, in addition to being clean out of hand sanitizer.
(By the way, don’t use vodka. Not only is it more expensive than rubbing alcohol, it’s half the strength and won’t work in the DIY hand sanitizer recipes. That lady had the right idea: vodka is for drinking.)
So here’s a question for you, if you’re thinking about making your own hand sanitizer. Why not just…wash your hands? Sure, sanitizer is a handy stopgap when you aren’t near a sink, but is a sketchy DIY version really any better? It may not actually work, and it’s probably going to dry your hands out pretty bad.
Except in very specific circumstances (you’re in the wilderness, but surrounded by crowds of people, but you also do not have visibly dirty hands) you can probably just make another trip to the bathroom to wash your hands.
The good news: Every store I checked had hand sanitizer cleared from the shelves, but hand soap was always plentifully stocked.