Make Your Own Hand Sanitiser

Save a bundle, and stay safe: how to make effective hand sanitiser that does the job and won't cost you the earth - or cost the earth's resources.
Date: April 08, 2020 Posted by: Dafydd Monks

Like many people, I was thoroughly shocked by the scenes of shelves stripped bare with people stockpiling last month. In the early days of the Coronavirus epidemic, and later, pandemic, people seemed to lose all sense of sanity and bulk-buy goods that they really shouldn't. While the toilet roll is the ultimate example of this, hand sanitiser has been like hen's teeth for some time. I usually have a few bottles spare as there's one in my bag of medical instruments at all times - if I see you in clinic, or anywhere else for that matter, I will 'wash' my hands with sanitiser before touching/examining you. I knew I had a few spare bottles, and as I haven't been seeing patients in clinic for a couple of weeks, I thought little of the need to find more hand sanitiser. Until I started to be asked for it by family, friends, and patients. A quick look on Amazon showed hand sanitiser gel being sold for up to £8 per tiny 50ml bottle. That is outrageous! It would be so much easier to just make some from scratch!

Various home made hand sanitisers
Various hand improvised hand sanitisers

Having access to a fully stocked dispensary, I thought little of the principle ingredient of any 'good' hand sanitiser - alcohol. But as nothing is certain in these less than certain times, here are some good options to make your own effective hand sanitiser quickly and effectively.

Natural alternatives?

I have seen several websites and forum posts suggesting that hand sanitisers be made with little or no alcohol. Unfortunately, these ideas are largely complete bunkum. I have read suggestions of using essential oils (not a bad idea, but those that are antiviral are specific to certain viruses and alter the way they move from cell to cell in the body - not inhibit the infection getting in in the first place!), vinegar, floral waters, vodka, and a whole host of other suggestions. None of these ideas will have any effect against a virus you have touched being transmitted into your body if you touch your mouth, rub your eyes, etc. The best way to 'kill' a virus and stop it getting into the body is to chemically break it into pieces, thus destroying it. This is really easy to do: there are two easy ways to do this: soap and water, and preferably lots of it, or an alcohol, at a concentration greater than 60% by volume.

Sources of Alcohol

Who'd have thought that the cheapest Poundland cologne would make good hand sanitiser?
Who'd have thought that the cheapest Poundland cologne would make effective hand  sanitiser?

Alcohol is around us in all sorts of forms that we might not consider putting on our hands. In a pinch, these forms of alcohol are still very useful and will still do their job at killing viruses. Here are some ideas.

  1. Methylated Spirits. The favourite purple potion of the gardening cupboard or tool shed is mostly ethanol - that is to say alcohol - with a little methanol, purple dye, and a foul smelling/tasting compound to discourage drinking it! For the purposes of this post, it is 'pure alcohol' and will work well a hand sanitiser.

  2. Isopropyl alcohol. Another common 'alcohol' you certainly wouldn't want to have pass your lips, Isopropyl alcohol is used in commercially made hand sanitisers and products such as cleaning fluids, computer screen wipes, and for those of us old enough to remember, casette/video tape head cleaning fluid. It will either be 100% isopropyl (treat as 'pure alcohol') or 70% with the balance water (treat as ready to use hand sanitiser). Look at your bottle to work out which you have!

  3. Surgical spirit. This is Basically methylated spirit without the purple dye and a little salicylic acid (aspirin) added to astringe bleeding (stop bleeding from wounds). It should be considered pure alcohol.

  4. Aftershave/Cologne. In Poundland, the shelves were stripped of any kind of disinfectant or antiseptic last week, yet as always, their shelves of cheap Cologne were full. In order to be kind to the skin, aftershave is seldom stronger than 70%, but often stronger than %50 in order to give the cooling effect needed after shaving. Treat cheap aftershave as ready made hand sanitiser: if you can put up with the strong perfume!

  5. Strong liquor. Spirits above 60% will work as hand sanitisers on their own. If really desperate they might work, but is it really worth using £60 brandy or vodka to rub your hands with? Spirits below 60% alcohol by volume will not work!

Simple Rubbing Alcohol

The simplest rubbing alcohol is simply 60-70% alcohol (by volume) and the balance water. This 60-70% concentration is rather a sweet spot for killing viruses and it is these proportions I suggest you follow. Two thirds alcohol, one third water is about right in the middle, so that is what I will suggest.

How to make it

To make rubbing alcohol, simply mix two thirds alcohol of some type with a third part of water. This will be very 'thin' stuff, so you will need to put it in a spray bottle - spray it onto your hands liberally, and rub together. That's it.

Aloe Vera Hand Sanitiser Gel

Many of the hand gels sold over the counter are thickened with Aloe vera. The aloe gel doesn't mix terribly well with alcohol, but it will mix with enough stirring, or ideally, blending in some sort of food processor. I use a Nutribullet which is ideal as the blades are right at the bottom of the mixing chamber.

How to make it

Place two thirds of alcohol with a third part of Aloe vera gel in a blender/mixer and mix until the Aloe gel is thoroughly dissolved. You will end up with a gel which is quite similar to the stuff you would buy over the counter.

But What About the Herbs?

Calendula tincture diluted to 60% alcohol by volume
Calendula tincture in 90% alcohol, diluted to 70% alcohol
Having thoroughly focussed on the virus-bursting qualities of alcohol, you may be thinking that as a herbalist, I am 'doing my profession out of its place'. Not at all; the herbs that can be added to your hand sanitiser will have a great effect on your skin, and can help

A while ago I made a 90% tincture of Pot Marigold (Calendula officinalis) with surgical spirit to demonstrate tincture making. At the time, I had no idea what I was going to do with it. Now I do: With an additional 20% water added, it works well as a hand sanitiser and the Calendula is a nice soothing tonic to the skin - a handy attribute with you don't have Aloe vera handy! 90% alcohol tinctures - or any tincture above 60% alcohol by volume can be used as a hand sanitiser as long as the finished product is 60-70% alcohol.

Essential oils can be added to your sanitiser to improve fragrance or impart desired dermatological/medicinal qualities of the essential oil. I like Peppermint (Mentha x piperita) as a nice soothing oil that gives a nice soothing quality to hot/red skin (like mine tends to be) and feels cool on the skin - it is a refrigerant to the skin making it feel cooler than it actually is. Add essential oils at a rate of 1ml to a hundred ml of hand sanitiser - for most oils this equates to 30 drops to 100 ml hand sanitiser.

Final thoughts

Alcohol and water - two almost ubiquitous compounds are a great way of keeping your hands clean in these worrying times when out and about (if even only for the 5 minutes to go to the shop and back) - do try making your own hand sanitiser and let me know how you get on!

Have you tried making your own hand sanitiser? What did you put in it? Let us know in the comments below!

Wishing everyone a happy, healthy, and infection free springtime season!

Further reading:

An article from Australia bemoaning the fact that many hand sanitisers do not contain sufficient alcohol to kill viruses effectively:

The stock alcohol and aloe recipe published in the Independant:

A list of the outrageously priced hand sanitisers on Amazon - do take a look for amusement if nothing else. Such egregious profiteering on such products is an outrage and should take all credit away from the sellers who still have it in stock to be trying to make a quick quid in times of crisis:

Coming Soon: How to use Soap and Water!

How clinicians wash their hands: And how it can help you stay clean and safe!