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Most people probably haven’t thought much about how to make hand sanitizer. Stores sell it for cheap, in a variety of scents and styles, and it’s basically as good as it can be. But if you want to earn some DIY bragging rights, clean your paws using a particular scent, or prepare for a future health crisis, you can easily make your own with supplies you can find at a drugstore or may already have at home.
But before you start, there are a few things you should keep in mind before you craft homemade hand sanitizer. First, it’s crucial that you understand that proper hand washing will always be better than simply rubbing your digits with hand sanitizer. Using the right amount of alcohol-based disinfectant (3 milliliters) for 25 to 30 seconds is fine in a pinch, but soap, water, and a good scrub are the absolute best way to protect yourself against contagious diseases.
Knowing how to make hand sanitizer is useful if you ever find yourself in the middle of a health emergency like the COVID-19 pandemic. But these and other DIY recipes are only for extreme cases when hand washing is not an option and supplies are low. Professionals use these formulations in underserviced healthcare settings, and if at some point hand sanitizer is not available at local stores, you can use them too.
Lastly, your homemade hand sanitizer won’t last forever. The main active ingredient in the recipes below is isopropyl alcohol, a volatile compound that will evaporate over time and compromise the effectiveness of your hand sanitizer. When alcohol concentration drops below 60%, your hand sanitizer won’t be able to kill COVID-19 or influenza, for example. The shelf life of store-bought hand sanitizers can vary—the industry standard is three years, but it can go up to five. How long your DIY hand sanitizer lasts will depend on the type and size of the container you use and how often you open it, along with room temperature and humidity. Unfortunately, all of these factors make it hard to predict exactly how long your hand sanitizer will be good for, so proceed with caution.
How to make hand sanitizer
There are two main formulas for homemade hand sanitizer: one, recommended by the World Health Organization, is closer to liquid than gel and is harder on your hands, while the other will be gentler on your skin and closely resembles the feel of store-bought hand sanitizer. Which one you make depends on your personal preference.
The WHO has a comprehensive guide on how to make hand sanitizer—the only problem is that if you follow their instructions, you’ll end up with a lot of it. Like, exactly 2.6 gallons of it. If you want to make enough to last you, your family, and all your friends through a zombie apocalypse, you definitely can. But if you want to keep things on a smaller scale, we’ve adapted the measurements for you.
1. Pour the alcohol into a medium-sized container with a pouring spout. The percentages on the labels of isopropyl alcohol refer to the alcohol concentration in them. You’re dealing with almost pure alcohol if you’ve got 99.8%, whereas 70% means the bottle is only a little more than two-thirds alcohol, and the rest is water.
- Warning: Do not replace rubbing alcohol with spirits like vodka or gin, as they don’t have the proper alcohol concentrations to render an effective hand sanitizer.
- Note: Some formulations have tried to adapt these proportions to use 91% isopropyl alcohol or even 70%. But these alcohol concentrations will render a final product that doesn’t comply with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation of using hand sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol to fight viruses like COVID-19, herpes, HIV, and hepatitis B.
2. Add the hydrogen peroxide.
3. Add the glycerin and stir. This ingredient is thicker than both alcohol and hydrogen peroxide, so it’ll take some stirring to combine everything. You can use a clean spoon for this or, if your container has a lid, you can put that on and shake it well.
4. Measure and pour in the water. Measure a ¼-cup of distilled or boiled cold water and add it to your mix. Stir.
[Related: Is hand sanitizer bad for my microbiome?]
5. Sanitize your spray bottles and pour in your hand sanitizer. Spray some of your leftover alcohol into your bottles and let them sit until the alcohol has evaporated. Then pour in your sanitizer.
6. Label your bottles. Hand sanitizers pose a real risk of involuntary alcohol poisoning, especially among children, who were largely affected by it during the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic. You don’t want anyone to accidentally ingest your newly made hand sanitizer. Take the time to label your bottles with their contents and the date, and keep them away from unsupervised kids.
1. Pour the alcohol into a medium container with a pouring spout. Some recipes online use vodka instead of isopropyl alcohol, but they’re not interchangeable. Most vodkas and other spirits don’t contain a high enough percentage of alcohol to be effective.
- Warning: Using isopropyl alcohol diluted beyond 91% will result in a weaker hand sanitizer that doesn’t meet the CDC’s 60% benchmark for killing the COVID-19 virus and influenza.
2. Measure and pour the aloe vera gel. Alcohol can be hard on your skin, so using aloe is a good way to counteract that effect and keep your hands smooth. If you want to keep things natural, you can use aloe vera gel straight from the plant without worrying about it going bad—the alcohol will act as a preservative.
However, you will need to keep in mind that natural aloe gel is thicker than its store-bought counterpart and will affect the final product differently—it will make your hand sanitizer more sticky, which means you’ll need to rub your hands more times for it to fully absorb.
3. Add the essential oil. Tea tree oil is naturally antibacterial, so it makes sense to use it here. But if you’re not a fan of its smell, you can use another type of essential oil, like lavender, lemongrass, or eucalyptus.
4. Whisk. To fully mix all ingredients, stirring won’t be enough. Get a whisk and beat that hand sanitizer into a homogeneous gel.
5. Sanitize your spray bottles and pour in your hand sanitizer. Spray some of your leftover alcohol into your bottles and let them sit until the alcohol has evaporated. Pour in your sanitizer.
6. Label your containers. Hand sanitizers pose a real risk of involuntary alcohol poisoning, especially among children, who were largely affected by it during the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic. You don’t want anyone to accidentally ingest your newly made hand sanitizer. Take the time to label your bottles with their contents and the date, and keep them away from unsupervised kids.
Updated March 7, 2020, at 1 p.m.: This story has been updated to more accurately reflect which concentrations of alcohol will result in hand sanitizer that’s at least 60% alcohol.
Updated March 23, 2020, at 6 p.m.: This story has been updated to more accurately reflect the amount of water in the WHO formulation. The original story resulted in hand sanitizer that was 71% alcohol, and the updated version is now at 75%.
This post has been updated. It was originally published on March 5, 2020.