Waterless Hand Wash

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We know that washing your hands with soap and running water for at least 20 seconds is the best way to sanitise your hands, particularly during this Covid-19 pandemic. Soap dissolves the protective lipid bilayer which surrounds some viruses, including coronavirus [1][2]. But what do you do in situations when running water is unavailable (like the grocery store)? Yes, an alcohol-based hand sanitiser is your next best choice. However, both alcohol and sanitisers haven’t always been readily available, particularly at the beginning of lockdown when most suppliers in my area ran out of stock. That’s when I came up with this recipe.

At first, I started carrying around a juice bottle filled with diluted liquid soap. But it would often spill to the floor when I poured it into my hands. Then I devised a plan to turn my portable soapy water into a more travel-friendly and handbag-friendly gel. So that’s basically what this recipe is – a way to carry around soapy water in your handbag. The same directions apply – lather and scrub thoroughly for at least 20 seconds.


Cost Price: R4.25 per 100ml when you make liquid soap, and R4.50 if you use Earthsap liquid soap. Calculated in 2020, based on the best retail prices I’ve found.
Lasted me about:
 1 month using on my hands and forearms multiple times per day.
Estimated shelf life: 6 months if you store away from direct sunlight.


Your hands will feel a little sticky when you first apply the gel, but this usually goes away in a minute as the product absorbs. The more concentrated your soap, the sticker it will feel. The ratios in my recipe are ideal, in the sense that it still lathers well and only feels sticky for a short time.


  • Ideal for travelling, or for emergencies when running water or alcohol is unavailable.
  • Not as drying to your hands as alcohol-based sanitisers.
  • Soap is readily available and affordable for most people.
  • Can be stored in a pump bottle in your handbag.


  • Distilled water: is a pure form of water without additional minerals, salts and other deposits which typically shorten the shelf life of a product. You can find distilled water at most pharmacies. Don’t confuse distilled water with filtered, spring or purified water – they are not the same thing.
  • Liquid soap: is the active ingredient in this recipe used to sanitise hands. You can make your own liquid soap, or you can buy a good liquid soap.
  • Vegetable glycerine: is necessary to hydrate the xanthan gum in the recipe to prevent clumps from forming. (Buy hereĀ )
  • Xanthan gum: is a sugar derived from either corn, soy or wheat. It transforms the liquid soap solution into a gel. (Buy here)

Disclaimer: This recipe will not provide adequate protection against a virus as a stand alone measure, and should only be used when regular hand washing and alcohol-based hand sanitisers are unavailable. The World Health Organizationā€™s standard recommendations to prevent infection spread include regular hand washing, covering mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, thoroughly cooking meat and eggs, washing fresh produce, and to avoid close contact with anyone showing symptoms of illness such as coughing and sneezing.


[1] Dr. Dan Corbett. How soap kills the coronavirus. Online article accessed from Queen’s University Belfast website at, https://www.qub.ac.uk/coronavirus/analysis-commentary/how-soap-kills-covid-19-virus/

[2] Pall Thordarson. The science of soap – here’s how it kills the coronavirus. Published on 12 March 2020, accessed from The Guardian at https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/mar/12/science-soap-kills-coronavirus-alcohol-based-disinfectants

Have you made this recipe? How does this waterless hand wash work for you? Let me know in the comments below.

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