How to make DIY hand sanitizer

We’ve got liquid and gel for all your germ-killing needs.

Hand sanitizer supplies
Making your own hand sanitizer is easy. But if you want to fight COVID-19, no, you can’t use vodka. Sandra Gutierrez G.

This post has been updated. It was originally published on 03/05/20.

Click here to see all of PopSci’s COVID-19 coverage.

You probably haven’t considered making your own 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 get some DIY bragging rights, clean your paws using a particular scent-combo, or prepare just in case of another shortage, you can easily make your own with supplies you can find at a drugstore or may already have at home.

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But before you start, it’s crucial that you understand simply rubbing your digits with hand sanitizer is not a substitute for good ol’ hand washing. We don’t live in a world with a sink every other corner, so alcohol-based disinfectants used in the right amount (3 milliliters) and rubbed long enough (25 to 30 seconds) are fine in a pinch. But soap, water, and a good scrub is the absolute best way to protect yourself against contagious diseases.

[Related: Hand washing trumps sanitizer when it comes to beating viruses]

There are two main formulas out there: 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.

Stats

Time: literally 2 minutes

Estimated ingredient cost: $15 (makes 3.5 cups, or 15 of those little two-ounce bottles)

Difficulty: easy

Tools

  • Measuring cup
  • Measuring spoons
  • Whisk
  • Empty spray bottles (for WHO formulation)
  • Empty lotion or sanitizer containers (for gel formulation)

How to make the WHO hand sanitizer formulation

Ingredients

The WHO has a comprehensive guide on how to make your own hand sanitizer—the only problem is that if you follow these 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.

  • 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 COVID-19.
Measuring cup
A measuring cup will help you get all proportions right. Sandra Gutierrez G.

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 ¼ of a 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. Pour in your sanitizer.

6. Label your bottles. You don’t want any accidents where you or anybody else ingests your newly made hand sanitizer. Take the time to label your bottles. Go kill some germs.

How to make homemade hand sanitizer gel

Hand holding hand sanitizer
Always label your bottles. It’s unlikely you’ll mistake one of these for a flask, but accidents do happen. Sandra Gutierrez G.
Ingredients

1. Pour the alcohol into a medium container with a pouring spout. Some recipes online use vodka instead of isopropyl alcohol, but most vodkas don’t contain a high enough percentage of alcohol to be effective.

  • Note: Using isopropyl alcohol diluted beyond 91% will result in a weaker hand sanitizer that doesn’t meet the CDC’s 60% benchmark.

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.

[Related: Five tips for taking care of your over-washed hands]

However, you will need to keep in mind that natural aloe gel is thicker than its store-bought counterpart and will thus 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.

Cup of aloe vera
That is a lot of aloe vera gel. Sandra Gutierrez G.

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 an homogeneous gel.

Whisk in measuring cup
Shake that sanitizer like a Polaroid picture. Sandra Gutierrez G.

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. You don’t want any accidents where you or anybody else ingests your newly made hand sanitizer. Take the time to label your bottles. Continue living.

Updated March 7 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 23rd 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%.

Sandra Gutierrez G.

Sandra Gutierrez G.is a Chilean journalist and the assistant DIY editor at PopSci. She has previously worked as an editor for MSN.cl, and a reporter for Rolling Stone magazine. When she's not putting baking soda on things, she's walking her 10-year-old beagle, Lucas. Contact the author here.