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Infectious Diseases

Updated 22 July 2020

DIY hand sanitiser: Why there shouldn't be an over-reliance on it for coronavirus protection

The DIY route is harder than it seems, and if done wrong, could make the final product ineffective – and sometimes even dangerous.

  • Hand sanitisers have become essential in keeping hands germ-free when on the go
  • Since the coronavirus outbreak started, stock has been scarce, so people have had to improvise
  • For many, this translated into homemade sanitisers, but experts warn this isn't a good option

With the coronavirus outbreak, hand sanitiser quickly became a sought-after commodity, selling like hotcakes and leading to a dire shortage. Soon, web browsers saw a surge in panic searches for do-it-yourself recipes, but while it may sound like a fun project, you may want to think twice about experimenting in your kitchen-turned-lab. Here’s why.

Going the DIY route? Rethink your decision

Homemade hand sanitiser may be quick to prepare, and is arguably more cost-effective than the store-bought alternative, but it isn’t necessarily the best.

Pharmaceutical scientist Dr Alexander Edwards told The Telegraph that manufacturers of these disinfectants use very specific procedures to make them and to ensure that they’re safe, and that going to the DIY route may not turn out to be successful.

“One of the most important things about hand sanitiser is the ethanol, which is what kills bugs. Hand sanitisers typically contain 60% ethanol, but it’s very hard to find any spirits which have that much alcohol to start with,” Edwards said.

Many tutorials also advise adding another liquid, such as aloe vera gel, to prevent the drying of hands, but in doing so you’re actually diluting the amount of raw alcohol, and the product may end up not protecting you against the hazardous virus.

Edwards further commented: “You’re better off spending 20 seconds washing your hands thoroughly with normal hand soap.”

Dr Ted Lain, a dermatologist and chief medical officer for Sanova Dermatology also told The New York Times that we don’t have sterile production facilities in our homes, which is a consideration many of us don’t even take into account.

“I’m concerned that the tools that are going to be used for it are not sterile and could be introducing bacteria, fungi and viruses into the hand sanitiser,” he said.

Incorrectly mixed can lead to burns

A 2010 guideline by the World Health Organization (WHO) on making your own hand sanitiser, which includes ingredients like ethanol and hydrogen peroxide, has been doing the rounds online. Although the document is credible, it may be too complex for the average person to make. CNN also notes that the guide is intended purely for populations without access to clean water or other medical-grade products in place.

Experiments gone wrong include an 11-year-old boy in New Jersey who suffered chemical burns after using a spray sanitiser from a local 7-Eleven store, CNN reported. The owner was selling hand sanitiser in spray bottles, which he had made by adding water to foaming sanitiser, which is commercially available, but not intended for resale.

Best weapon against the virus

Hand sanitiser might have become the holy grail of mobile hygiene measures, but at the end of the day handwashing with soap and water (for 20 seconds) should be the first option. If sanitisers are in short supply, antibacterial wipes may be the next best thing. However, bear in mind that the jury is still out on whether it does the job of killing viruses.

And the best weapon against the coronavirus is actually a mixed bag of behaviours, including avoiding touching your face, wearing a face mask, covering your mouth when sneezing or coughing, regularly disinfecting surfaces, and, most importantly, physical distancing.