DIY Hand Sanitizer

Health & Wellness: Do Not Try This at Home

When I first conceptualized this entry, it was my intent to offer a list of alternative ingredients for making your own hand sanitizer during the shortages caused by the 2019-2020 COVID-19 Pandemic. However, I am totally scrapping this solutions story, because upon closer consideration, it proves to be a very bad idea.

First and foremost, the myriad recipes you are likely to find online take far too much for granted. The results will be disappointing and impractical at best and toxically ineffective at worst. Second, the process for making sanitizer is not as simple as mixing rubbing alcohol with aloe vera gel (if you can even find either). The resulting mixture will be a goopy mess that separates constantly. Third, without proper protocols in place, the ingredients might be contaminated to begin with and will not provide the necessary sterilizing effect. All of this together means the false sense of security these home remedies provide could lead to risky or lackadaisical behavior. I know you’re sick of hearing it, but you have to focus on washing your hands. Sorry.

If you want proof of how difficult it is to make a proper hand sanitizer, here is the process defined in minute detail as approved by the National Institute of Health. Without a lab you cannot possibly hope to meet these stringent guidelines.

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Here are some of the false friends you will encounter in these DIY recipes:
• Benzalkonium chloride does not kill coronaviruses.
• Hydrogen peroxide cannot be mixed at home properly to be effective.
• Essential oils, including tea tree oil, help with some microbes, but they do not kill coronaviruses.
• Vodka is only 40 percent alcohol, and this would be diluted even weaker once added to aloe vera gel. The mixture needs to result in 60-70 percent alcohol.
• Bleach is a skin irritant.
• Vinegar does not kill coronaviruses.
• Silver and various compounds containing it are no longer as effective against microbes, because they have developed resistance to the metal. Also, it has unknown side effects for the environment.
• Witch hazel is an astringent that causes tissues to shrink or constrict. It is not a reliable antiseptic.
• 99 percent isopropyl alcohol evaporates too quickly to remain in contact with microbes long enough to kill them.
• Baking soda removes dirt; it does not kill germs.
• Swimming pool water is not strong enough to kill viruses on your skin. Chlorine on its own is very dangerous.

In case you think using other household cleaners might work, here is an article from the Environmental Protection Agency. It lists products known to kill coronaviruses, but very emphatically states that they are for use on surfaces, not skin.

Since DIY hand sanitizer is a bad idea, let’s focus instead on hand washing. Soap does not kill bacteria or microbes, and soaps that add ingredients to do so are not any more effective than their traditional counterparts. This is why: Soaps lift dirt and microbes off the surface they clean, all of which is then rinsed away. Thus, soap is a disinfectant, but not an antiseptic. Soaps that add this are ineffective, because the germs are rinsed away before they can be killed, but then the antiseptic runs off into the environment.

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In our desire to be more effective we can become ineffective. This is the very definition of doing too much. There is no need to complicate matters. I know that something as simple as hand washing can be emotionally inadequate, that it feels too good to be true. However, in this instance, less is definitely more. Also, using soap is more effective than using even properly produced hand sanitizers. Soaps mechanically remove the virus, sanitizers may kill many of them, but not all, and then they’re still there sitting on your skin.

Please avoid the temptation to make your own hand sanitizer. If you feel you must be proactive and do something, make your own soap. Don’t bother adding anything antiseptic to it. Focus on water, lye, a rich fat (perhaps olive oil), and maybe a little essential oil for its emotionally soothing properties (orange, lavender, and frankincense are nice together). If it gratifies you to have artisanal soap, but you cannot make your own, there are many lovely options at retailers such as Whole Foods for you to peruse while maintaining social distancing.

Stay home as much as possible. Stay away from people in public. Wash your hands frequently. Wear masks and safety glasses together with face shields. Try to avoid touching your face. That really is the best you can do.

Jack Kirven completed the MFA in Dance at UCLA, and earned certification as a personal trainer through NASM. His wellness philosophy is founded upon integrated lifestyles as opposed to isolated workouts. Visit him at jackkirven.com and INTEGRE8Twellness.com.

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