With the global spread of SARS-CoV-2, some grocery stores and pharmacies may have limited supplies of alcohol-based hand sanitizers. This means people may try to make hand sanitizer at home.
With the announcement of the COVID-19 pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO), experts around the world recommend frequent hand washing, social distancing, and respiratory hygiene to reduce the virus’ spread.
Hand washing is one of the most effective ways a person can protect themselves and their family from getting sick. However, if soap and water are not immediately available, people can also use hand sanitizers.
Due to a potential shortage of hand sanitizers in stores, some people may try to make it at home. Keep reading to learn more about making hand sanitizer at home, including risks, safety, and official recommendations.
Generally speaking, people should not attempt to make hand sanitizer at home. There are several risks involved, perhaps most crucially, the use of ingredients that have no effect on the pathogens that cause COVID-19.
Using hand sanitizer is a useful alternative to soap and water, but it should not be a substitute for proper hand washing. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), proper hand washing techniques can reduce the number of all types of germs, pesticides, and metals on the hands.
Researchers have demonstrated that solutions containing 60% ethanol and 70% isopropanol, which are the active ingredients in CDC-recommended alcohol-based hand sanitizers, inactivate viruses that are similar to SARS-CoV-2.
However, these approved hand sanitizers still do not kill all pathogens, including:
- Clostridium difficile
The CDC recommend that all people wear cloth face masks in public places where it is difficult to maintain a 6-foot (2-meter) distance from others. This will help slow the spread of the virus from asymptomatic people and people who do not know that they have contracted it. People should wear cloth face masks while continuing to practice physical distancing. Instructions for making masks at home are available here. Note: It is critical that surgical masks and N95 respirators are reserved for healthcare workers.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, grocery stores and pharmacies may quickly run out of CDC-recommended hand sanitizers.
Nonalcohol-based hand sanitizers may contain other ingredients, such as benzalkonium chloride and essential oils, such as tea tree oil. These ingredients will not kill coronaviruses.
Recently, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued guidelines for pharmacies to make alcohol-based hand sanitizers for the duration of the current public health emergency only.
The agency is aware that people are attempting to make hand sanitizer at home, but they do not recommend this practice.
All currently available hand sanitizer recipes are intended for use by professionals with expertise and the resources necessary for safe compounding.
Pharmacies can only make hand sanitizer for human use if:
- They use only United States Pharmacopeia (USP) grade ingredients in amounts consistent with the World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations.
- The pharmacist or compounder does not add other ingredients because these may affect the safety and effectiveness of the sanitizer.
- The pharmacist or compounder uses the correct type and amount of alcohol in the preparation.
- The pharmacy has the necessary workspace, equipment, and other instruments essential for nonsterile preparations.
Despite the risks of contracting SARS-CoV-2 and the potential difficulty in purchasing hand sanitizer, experts do not recommend that people make homemade hand sanitizer because:
- They may not have the appropriate tools and clean workspace to make a product that can effectively sanitize hands.
- They may be unable to find many of the raw ingredients required to make the WHO recommended hand sanitizer.
- The chemicals required to make them may cause skin irritation, injury, or burns.
- Exposure to hazardous chemicals via inhalation can cause harm.
Commercial hand sanitizers and homemade hand sanitizers with less than the recommended 60–95% alcohol may not kill all the pathogens that can cause infections, including the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
These hand sanitizers reduce the growth of germs but will not kill them.
Making hand sanitizer at home is not recommended because most people do not have the appropriate ingredients or tools to make it according to the WHO recommendations.
Without the right ingredients, homemade hand sanitizers may have no effect on the clinically relevant germs and may be dangerous.
Some people may think rubbing alcohol is an option.
Although rubbing alcohol may contain an adequate concentration of chemicals, applying it to the skin repeatedly will dry it out by removing oils and may cause inflammation and irritation.
Although some hand sanitizers are effective against viruses such as SARS-CoV-2, people must use them appropriately to ensure their effectiveness.
People must follow the product instructions carefully. They must also respect the contact time. This refers to how long the product should stay on the skin.
In early March 2020, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a list of surface disinfectant products that they recommend for use against SARS-CoV-2.
Coronaviruses, such as SARS-CoV-2, have a protective envelope or coating that is much weaker than the coating of some other viruses. As such, they are among the easiest types of viruses to kill with appropriate cleaning.
Some surface disinfectant ingredients that are active against coronaviruses include:
- hydrogen peroxide
- quaternary ammonium
- sodium hypochlorite
Before using these products, read the label carefully and always respect the contact time. Contact time refers to how long the cleaned surface should remain wet after application. Do not use these chemicals on the skin.
People may find different recipes online for hand sanitizers. The WHO recommend using only the ingredients listed in their approved hand sanitizer recipe. Other ingredients that people may find online, but should not use include the following:
Vodka typically contains only 40% alcohol. The CDC recommend hand sanitizers contain at least 60% alcohol.
Additionally, the FDA have only approved the use of USP grade ingredients for producing hand sanitizers. Vodka is not a USP grade alcohol.
Bleach is an effective surface disinfectant when prepared correctly. Always follow the instructions on the packaging and use it with care, as bleach can burn or irritate the skin.
Bleach-based hand sanitizers are not recommended for repeated use as they can damage the skin over time.
Many do-it-yourself cleaners contain vinegar. One study analyzed the disinfection effectiveness of natural products, such as vinegar and baking soda and commercial disinfectants, including Clorox and Lysol.
The researchers found that commercial cleaners were effective against:
- Staphylococcus aureus
- Salmonella choleraesuis
- Escherichia coli
- Pseudomonas aeruginosa
For some of the products, the researchers tested their efficacy against:
- vancomycin-susceptible Enterococcus species
- vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus species
- methicillin-susceptible Staphylococcus aureus
- methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus
The research demonstrated that the natural household disinfectants were less effective than the commercial household disinfectants.
Several different industries, such as the healthcare and food industries, use silver and silver nanoparticles for their antimicrobial properties. Since silver ions possess strong antimicrobial properties and have no serious effects on humans, researchers report extensive use of silver-based products.
Some bacteria that cause infections in humans have developed resistance to the antimicrobial effects of silver. Researchers do not yet know the environmental risks of using silver as an antimicrobial agent.
Since some microorganisms can develop resistance to silver-based antimicrobial products, so people should avoid using them in home made hand sanitizers.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, throughout the flu season, and all-year-round, people must practice proper hand hygiene to prevent getting sick.
The most effective hand hygiene strategy is hand washing with soap and water. When soap and water are unavailable, alcohol-based hand sanitizers may be an alternative.
Hand sanitizers are not as effective as hand washing but can be an alternative in certain situations.
The FDA do not recommend that people make sanitizers at home. They have only permitted pharmacies with appropriate workspaces, equipment, and access to the appropriate ingredients to prepare hand sanitizer for the duration of the current public health emergency only.
Household ingredients such as vinegar and vodka are not effective in killing all pathogens, including SARS-CoV-2.
Do not use homemade hand sanitizers except in extreme situations in which hand washing is not available for the foreseeable future.
Never use handmade sanitizers on children’s skin, as they may be more prone to improper usage and greater injury.