Alcohol-Based Hand Sanitizer

You may have already wondered about making your own hand sanitizer. However, I have seen some sketchy recipes online. Therefore, this post aims to provide reliable information regarding homemade hand sanitizer, as well as a few effective recipes, including the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) formula. It must still be emphasized that washing your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds is the most effective defense against Covid-19 and other viruses [1]. You should only resort to using hand sanitizer when there is no soap and water available to you. For example, when you go to the grocery store. Even then, you should lather the hand sanitizer on your skin for 30 seconds.

First of all, for a hand sanitiser to be effective it must be comprised of at least 65% alcohol. The higher, the better. This means that you cannot use drinkable alcohol like vodka, brandy, gin or whiskey etc. because they only contain up to 45% alcohol. The only drinkable alcohol that is strong enough is grain alcohol like Everclear 151 proof (which contains 75% alcohol), but I have not seen this product available in South Africa. Rather savour what alcohol you did buy before the ban, and enjoy a few lockdown toots. Also, vinegar or tea tree oil is ineffective against coronaviruses [2].

World Health Organisation’s FormulaTIONS

The WHO has published the following hand sanitiser recipes [3]:

Ethanol RECIPE:

IngredientAs a Percentage100ml Volume500ml Volume
Ethanol 96% solution83.33 %84 ml417 ml
Hydrogen Peroxide 3% solution4.17 %4.17 ml20.85 ml
Glycerol 98% solution1.45 %1.45 ml7.25 ml
Distilled / boiled water11.05 %11.05 ml55.25 ml
This recipe yields a hand sanitizer with 75% v/v alcohol.

ISOPROPYL ALCOHOL RECIPE:

IngredientAs a PercentageVolume (100ml)Volume (500ml)
Isopropyl alcohol 99.8% solution75.15 %75.15 ml375.75 ml
Hydrogen Peroxide 3% solution4.17 %4.17 ml20.85 ml
Glycerol 98% solution1.45 %1.45 ml7.25 ml
Distilled / boiled water19.23 %19.23 ml96.15 ml
This recipe yields a hand sanitizer with 80% v/v alcohol.

DIRECTIONS: Mix all of these ingredients together, and store in a sterilized bottle for 72 hours to allow any spores that are present to be destroyed.

w.h.o. RECIPE explanation:

The final result of the WHO ethanol recipe is a hand sanitiser comprising of 75% v/v alcohol content. The final product of their isopropyl recipe is a hand sanitizer with 80% v/v alcohol content.

  • The active ingredient in both WHO recipes is the alcohol. They both require a high-proof alcohol to start with (96% v/v ethanol, and 99% v/v isopropyl alcohol respectively).
  • Hydrogen peroxide is added as a preservative. This is a common ingredient used to whiten teeth, bleach hair and clothes. It is also known as oxygenated water, or H₂O₂. It can be found at most pharmacies.
  • Glycerol (also known as glycerine) is added as a humectant. In other words, to prevent your skin from being stripped dry by the concentrated alcohol. It basically moisturises and protects your skin from being damaged by the alcohol.
  • Water is added to bulk up the recipe, and it further dilutes the alcohol content so that it can be more mild on your skin. Distilled water can be found at most pharmacies.
  • Both recipes are highly flammable at low temperatures. Be cautious and store in a cool area. Keep far out of reach from children.

ALCOHOLs EXPLAINED

Not all alcohol is created equal, which is why your vodka stash is useless when it comes to hand sanitizer [4].

WHAT IS the difference between ethanol VS. ISOPROPYL ALCOHOL?

Consumable alcohol, like vodka and whiskey is made up of ethanol. Ethyl alcohol naturally occurs in fermented wine and beer etc., and is less toxic than isoproyl alcohol. However, most consumable alcohol is not concentrated enough to be used for hand sanitizer, because it has been diluted with water and other ingredients. The ethanol used in medicinal and industrial products is not safe to consume, because they contain bitterants and toxins to prevent people drinking it.

So for instance, if you decided to use vodka as a substitute in the WHO’s recipe, because you didn’t have isopropyl alcohol, you would be using a hand sanitizer with only 32% v/v alcohol, which is completely ineffective against viruses.

On the other hand, isopropyl alcohol is not safe to drink, and is commonly used in medical and industrial products because it is cheaper than ethanol.

Interestingly, 100% v/v alcohol by itself is also ineffective, simply because it will evaporate immediately [2]. Alcohol needs to be rubbed onto an area for at least 30 seconds, and 100% v/v alcohol won’t allow you enough time to do this. So you must dilute it, to prevent it from evaporating so quickly.

Most people won’t have access to pure forms of these alcohols (above 90%), and those that do may find that they are sold out by now. So what do you do now?

WHERE CAN i buy ethanol or ISOPROPYL ALCOHOL?

During lockdown, you can still buy both ethanol and isopropy alcohol online from Essentially Natural. They are still allowed to operate during this time, and when I last checked (12 August 2020), they still have stock of these alcohols, as well as hydrogen peroxide. Therefore, you can buy what you need for the WHO recipes.

IF YOU CAN’T AFFORD OR DON’T HAVE ACCESS TO THESE

Try to find the following products:

Rubbing alcohol and surgical spirits are usually 70% v/v alcohol (using either ethanol or isopropyl). Therefore, if you find these, you will have to use them almost neat, which will be drying and may irritate your skin. I recommend adding glycerine to protect your skin – add 5ml glycerine to every 95ml rubbing alcohol.

Whereas, methylated spirits is usually about 95% v/v ethanol, which allows for more wiggle room to dilute it for topical use.

How to formulate your own recipe

First things first, you must determine the alcohol concentration of your specific alcohol product. Each brand is different. Read the label.

For a hand sanitiser to be effective it must be comprised of at least 65% alcohol.

Next, calculate how much wiggle room you have to dilute your product. You can do this by multiplying the alcohol content on the label, by how much of the product you intend to use in a 100ml recipe. Let’s say, for example, I want to make 100ml of hand sanitizer. I buy methylated spirits with 95% v/v, and I want to use 65ml of it in my recipe, the calculation will be as follows:

95% x 65 = 61.75ml   (or 0.95 x 65 = )

This figure will give you the final volume of alcohol in your product, and that number must be 65 or above. As you can see, if I use 65ml, then my recipe only contains 61.75ml of alcohol. So I must increase the amount of methylated spirits in my recipe. What if I use 80ml in my recipe:

95% x 80 = 76ml    (or 0.95 x 80 = )

Perfect, my final recipe will now have 76ml of alcohol content, and will be effective. That means I can use up to 20ml of other ingredients like glycerine, essential oils, aloe gel, water etc. to make up the total 100ml of my product.

100ml (total) - 80ml (methylated spirits) = 20ml for extra additives

I hope this makes sense?

If this has just confused you more, then please download my excel spreadsheet that will do the calculations for you.

It is crucial to determine the alcohol volume of the product you will be using, because each person may buy a different brand with a different volume.

Natural Nerd’s RECIPES:

Now I can share my personal hand sanitizer recipes, which contain over 65% alcohol content. These recipes are not particularly good for your skin. Please continue to use soap and water as your primary form of protection, and only use homemade hand sanitizer occasionally when you have no other option. When you get home, wash your hands with soap and apply a good moisturizer to restore and nourish your dry hands.

Instructions for all recipes that are listed below:

  1. Makes 200ml.
  2. Sterilise all equipment, and your product container.
  3. Combine all ingredients. Stir well.
  4. Transfer to container.

Recipe: 65% alcohol Content

190ml Ethanol 70% v/v OR Rubbing alcohol 70% v/v
10ml Vegetable Glycerine
10 drops (0.5ml) Essential oil – optional

Recipe cost price: R17.80 per 200ml (includes lavender EO). Cost based on the best retail prices at the time of writing).


Recipe: 76% alcohol Content

160ml Ethanol 95% v/v
30ml Aloe gel (substitute: distilled water)
10ml Vegetable Glycerine
10 drops (0.5) Essential oil – optional

Recipe cost price: R20.65 per 200ml (includes lavender EO).

Notes:

  • I recommend lavender essential oil, because it will soothe dry, irritated and itchy skin caused by the alcohol.
  • You can find rubbing alcohol at most pharmacies, including Dischem.

EMERGENCY RECIPE (UNNATURAL): 76% ALCOHOL

If you only have access to methylated spirits at the moment, then here is my emergency recipe for a 76% alcohol hand sanitizer. Please note that this is not a natural recipe.

160ml Powafix Methylated Spirits 95% v/v (methanol-free)
30ml Aloe gel (Substitute: Distilled Water, or water that is boiled and then cooled)
10ml Vegetable Glycerine
10 drops (0.5) Essential Oil – optional

Recipe cost price: R14.46 per 200ml (includes lavender EO).

Tip: I use Powafix methylated spirits, because it is a methanol-free product, and because the company has published detailed information about this product. You can access their technical data sheet, and their material safety data sheet here on their website.

Important safety information about methylated spirits:

Methylated spirits contain a host of ingredients in addition to alcohol. Some brands may contain methanol, which is a poisonous wood alcohol, but it is no longer widely used. Methanol and bitterants are added to prevent consumption. A New Zealand risk assessment study was published in 2014 regarding methylated spirits. This peer-reviewed study, published by Dr. Beverley Horn concluded that, “The use of methylated spirits for household cleaning by adults and children resulting in dermal or inhalation exposure is unlikely to cause a health risk.” This study excluded products containing methanol, because New Zealand banned it as an ingredient in 2006. Occasional skin contact is safe according to this risk assessment, but frequent and long-term use should be avoided. However, even if the brand you buy is methanol-free, methylated spirits is still very dangerous to consume and it is also highly flammable. For this reason, please store methylated spirits out of reach of children. The study indicated that 40% of Poison Center phone calls relating to methylated spirits concerned infants and children (0-3 year olds), and that under 5 year olds were at the highest risk of exposure for ingesting ethanol – particularly during exploratory play. Therefore, please make sure your children cannot access this substance, or the hand sanitizer you make from it. As Dr. Horn warns, “Ingestion of small quantities can cause serious health effects due to the high ethanol concentration. . .Coma and death could result from a 2–3 year old drinking 50 ml of methylated spirits.” (pg. 35)

Disclaimer: I have not been paid to write this article.


REFERENCES:

[1] Weisberger M. Hand sanitizer sold out? Here’s how to make your own. Live Science. Online article, accessed from https://www.livescience.com/coronavirus-diy-hand-sanitizer.html, 4 March 2020.

[2] Buccino N. Coronavirus: These products work best to kill the virus. World Economic Forum. Online article, accessed from https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/03/clean-kill-coronavirus-covid19-safety-health/, 20 March 2020.

[3] World Health Organisation. Guide to local production: WHO-recommended hand rub formulations. Online document, accessed from https://www.who.int/gpsc/5may/Guide_to_Local_Production.pdf

[4] Becker E. Does Alcohol Kill Germs? MDs Weigh In On Using Rubbing Alcohol, Vodka As A Disinfectant. Women’s Health. Online article, accessed from https://www.womenshealthmag.com/health/a31404173/does-alcohol-kill-germs/, 11 March 2020.

More helpful articles:

Lane E. You can make your own hand sanitizer during Covid-19. Men’s Health. Online article, accessed from https://www.menshealth.com/uk/health/a31731994/make-your-own-hand-sanitiser-during-covid-19/ , 18 March 2020.

Elder J. Locked away from the infectious world? The virus may be hiding with you. The New Daily. Online article, accessed from https://thenewdaily.com.au/life/wellbeing/2020/03/27/coronavirus-clean-house-disinfect/, 27 March 2020.

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