Here’s What Happened When I Tried To Make My Own Hand Sanitizer
The recipes circulating online aren't quite as foolproof as they sound.
Everyone’s out of hand sanitizer. The gels are gone, the wipes are gone. Recipes for making your own hand sanitizer at home to fight COVID-19 are making the rounds, though, so I decided to try it — even though regular old soap is savagely effective at destroying the new coronavirus, and that’s the thing we should all be focused on, anyway.
The guidelines set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are straightforward, and you’ve all heard one thing, in particular, a million times now: Washing your hands is the best protection against coronavirus — even better than using hand sanitizer.
And yet we’ve freaked ourselves out into a hand sanitizer shortage, anyway. (This is scary, so no judgment here.) So it’s no surprise that recipes have popped up for homemade versions, including vodka hand sanitizers, which are NOT a legitimate thing, and which forced Tito’s Vodka to issue a statement saying this is ineffective, and please do not do this:
Per the CDC, hand sanitizer needs to contain at least 60% alcohol. Tito's Handmade Vodka is 40% alcohol, and therefore does not meet the current recommendation of the CDC. Please see attached for more information. pic.twitter.com/OMwR6Oj28Q
— TitosVodka (@TitosVodka) March 5, 2020
Before I even tried making my own hand sanitizer, I read a CNET story that explained exactly why making your own is not advisable. Among the chief arguments against making your own: It isn’t easy to do.
I did not plan to do this, to turn myself into a DIY consumer goods maker. I had two bottles of gel sanitizer under the sink from back when I worked in a germy place (you are not heroes for showing up sick! Take your laptops and work from home!), so I didn’t buy more. Plus, I’m trying not to engage in panic-buying or hoarding, because our medical professionals and most vulnerable need this stuff.
But when a friend who was traveling mentioned her travel-size bottle was expired, I finally checked under the sink. Mine were expired, too. By two years! Hand sanitizer is less effective, and perhaps not effective at all, when it expires, Healthline reports. The alcohol is the active ingredient that kills germs, and it can evaporate — even out of a sealed bottle. (Yet another reason to wash our hands instead!)
Even though I’m not one to panic, I do like to be prepared. So I picked up a bottle of aloe vera gel, which was the only thing I was missing to make my own hand sanitizer, according to a recipe I’d read from CBS News. I already had 70% isopropyl alcohol, also known as rubbing alcohol, on hand.
Hand sanitizer is only effective if its alcohol content is 60% or higher, according to the CDC. This is where making your own gets tricky: If you get the ratio wrong, you won’t hit that 60% benchmark, and you probably don’t have an alcoholometer, which the World Health Organization recommends for confirming that percentage in the concoction you’ve made. Too much alcohol and you’ll dry out your hands, making them vulnerable to cracks.
The basic recipe I kept seeing was rubbing alcohol and aloe gel at a two-to-one ratio. The CBS News video makes it seem so simple. Just mix it up, bottle it and boom, you’re set. How hard can this really be?
I had some unused 1.5-ounce bottles on hand and decided to make enough to fill one of those. Why waste ingredients when I didn’t know how this was going to turn out? (More foreshadowing!)
And then I measured out half an ounce of aloe vera gel.
At first, they were separated in the bowl, just as I expected them to be based on the videos.
Then I started to stir. Things were not looking good.
The mix was turning into one big gloppy mess. The aloe gel was not mixing in. In fact, it was getting messier.
What the heck was I doing wrong? Maybe more stirring was needed?
Nope. The more I stirred, the more the aloe gel seemed to clump together. It was getting worse, not better.
Instead of a usable product, I ended up with a disgusting, clumpy mess that was soaked in alcohol. I’m glad I didn’t waste more of these ingredients trying to make a bigger batch.
I checked the label on my aloe vera gel and found that, in addition to aloe, it was full of interesting ingredients that are not aloe. How are these interacting with the alcohol? I’m no chemist, but the result wasn’t good.
I could pick up a different brand of aloe gel and try again. But I think I’ll stick to what the CDC says instead and just wash my hands, well and often. Soap is where it’s at, folks.