Have you tried to buy hand sanitizer lately? With the coronavirus spreading and an outbreak in the U.S. likely, Americans are stocking up on cleaning supplies and hand sanitizer just like they do with milk and bread before a snowstorm. Third-party sellers on Amazon have hiked up their prices to ridiculous levels.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is telling Americans to prepare for the spread of the virus, known as COVID-19. For some, that means stocking up on medications, planning for possible stay-at-home situations and practicing social distancing. But for everyone, it means practicing basic hygiene, like washing your hands.
But you don't always have access to a sink and running water. In that case, you should use hand sanitizer that is at least 60% alcohol. Make sure you use a dollop about the size of a quarter and rub it all over the front and back of your hands until they are dry.
If your store shelves are empty and you don't have a ready supply on hand, fortunately it's simple to make your own hand sanitizer.
How to make homemade hand sanitizer
You'll need to use about 90 milliliters of rubbing alcohol, also known as isopropyl alcohol, for every 10 milliliters of aloe vera gel, microbiologist and germ expert Dr. Philip Tierno tells MNN. Most isopropyl alcohol is about 70% alcohol by volume, says Tierno, professor of microbiology and pathology at NYU School of Medicine and NYU Langone Medical Center. Check the label to be sure. The alcohol sanitizes your hands but can be drying, so the aloe vera gel helps moisturize them.
Here's how that translates into an easy recipe you can make at home:
6 tablespoons rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol), at least 60% alcohol by volume
2 teaspoons aloe vera gel
Mixing bowl and spoon
Recycled and washed hand sanitizer bottle or liquid soap bottle
Simply mix the alcohol and aloe vera together well and pour it into the bottle using the funnel. You can double, triple or quadruple the recipe as needed.
Note that you shouldn't use fresh aloe vera, but should use a commercial gel because fresh won't remain stable for long-term use, says Wellness Mama. And while some people might suggest the addition of essential oils like lavender or peppermint, these can irritate some people's skin.
Hand-washing vs. hand sanitizer
The reason it's so important to keep your hands clean is that germs are often spread by people sneezing or coughing into their hands. They then touch us directly — like through a handshake — or they touch a surface, depositing germs there. Then we come along and touch that elevator button or door handle, pick up the germs on our own hands and then rubs our eyes or nose and invite the virus into our own bodies.
About 80% of infectious diseases are transmitted by direct and indirect contact, Tierno says. We pick up germs directly when people cough, sneeze or talk near us. We get them indirectly when a sick person touches a remote control or supermarket cart, then we touch it and touch our mouth, eyes, nose or an open cut.
To stop this chain of events, the CDC recommends washing hands often and thoroughly for at least 20 seconds or more. The World Health Organization (WHO) says you should scrub even longer than that. (You can compare the two hand-washing techniques for yourself.)
"Hand-washing is the simple most important thing a person can do for their health and is within everybody's ability," Tierno says. And if you can't wash your hands, reach for that (homemade) sanitizer.