Does DIY Hand Sanitizer Work?

  |     |   coronavirus, covid19, DIY, Tips
  • Keeping hands clean helps lower risk of spreading germs
  • Hand sanitizer is good in a pinch if you have no access to soap and water
  • Creating your own hand sanitizer may produce an ineffective product and could cause harm

So many shelves in our grocery stores and pharmacies have been empty for weeks.

No bread? No problem. Flour. Yeast. We got this.

We're nothing if not resourceful. But when it comes to that empty shelf once full of hand sanitizers, not so fast.

There's a lot to consider, and while there may be a slew of DIY hand sanitizer “recipes" online, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA), among other experts and health agencies, stresses there's a lot of room for error in regard to mixing the right elements in the right proportions to create a hand sanitizer that's safe and effective.

Here's why you should leave the creation of hand sanitizer to the professionals and what to do to stay safe right now.
 

Clean, disinfect, sanitize: What's the difference?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), it's uncertain exactly how long the virus that causes COVID-19 lasts on surfaces but studies suggest it could be anywhere from a few hours to several days. That's why it's important to clean your hands and keep them away from your eyes, mouth or nose.

Cleaning doesn't necessarily kill germs, but it will reduce the amount of all types of germs and chemicals, which in turn helps to lower the risk of spreading infection.

Disinfecting uses chemicals to kill germs, but you're not necessarily cleaning. Ideally, disinfect after you clean to help lower risk of spread.

Sanitizing, according to the CDC, “lowers the number of germs on surfaces or objects to a safe level as judged by public health standards or requirements. This process works by either cleaning or disinfecting surfaces or objects to lower the risk of spreading infection."

No room for error

Professionally manufactured hand sanitizer is made of alcohol, glycerin, hydrogen peroxide and sterile water mixed together in particular proportions as determined by health agencies such as the WHO or FDA.

For instance, FDA guidelines state the alcohol should not be less than 94.9 percent ethanol by volume. The WHO recommends a formula with alcohol (ethanol) of 80 percent by volume “in an aqueous solution." Using improper ingredients in the wrong proportions means your DIY hand sanitizer won't be effective.

No agency recommends adding other ingredients such as aloe or essential oils, as has been seen on some DIY options that have floated around the web. (Many of these have been removed, like a popular Facebook post touting a recipe using Tito's vodka. In the face of this, Tito's announced it would make its own authorized hand sanitizer.)

Additives can impact the quality and potency of the hand sanitizer. Also, additives may improve the hand sanitizer's smell or taste, which could attract and harm children who might ingest it.

Making a mistake creating hand sanitizer in your kitchen isn't like putting in too much salt in a recipe. The stakes are higher. Too much alcohol can irritate or burn the skin. You'll be inhaling hazardous chemicals during the creation process. And, if you cut corners or mix incorrectly, it might not effectively get rid of the microbes you want to remove.

 

Hand sanitizer best practices

The only reason to use hand sanitizer is if you have no access to soap and water. And, those times are few and far between, especially while we're spending so much more time in our houses and apartments.

Plus, for hand sanitizer to be most effective, it must be used properly, according to the CDC:

  • Cover all surfaces of the hands and rub in the hand sanitizer until it's dry
  • Clean hands first; using hand sanitizer on hands that are greasy or dirty can lower its effectiveness

Soap and water best

Ultimately, hand washing is more effective than hand sanitizers at removing certain kinds of germs. The soap — and no need for antibacterial soap — will lift away oil and microbes, and the water washes them away.

Get thee to a sink.

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