Why You Might Want to Think Twice Before Making Your Own Hand Sanitizer
Written by Elizabeth Pratt on March 15, 2020 – Fact checked by Dana K. Cassell
People may be tempted to make their own hand sanitizers, but expert washing your hands with soap and warm water is a better choice. Getty Images
Recipes for homemade hand sanitizers are available online, but experts say those DIY products may not be the best option during the coronavirus disease outbreak.
They say the recipes are too complicated for most people, and products that are mixed incorrectly can cause burns or other issues.
The experts say washing your hands with soap and warm water is the best way to protect against COVID-19.
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As hand sanitizers become more difficult to find, experts are warning consumers to be careful about making their own or mistakenly buying do-it-yourself versions made by amateurs.
They say that proper handwashing and social distancing are the best ways to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.
“Clean hands are a very important way to prevent infection or spread, especially with viruses like the coronaviruses, which can survive on surfaces or inanimate objects for hours to even a day or more,” Stephen Morse, PhD, MS, an infectious disease expert from Columbia University in New York, told Healthline.
“Alcohol-based sanitizer containing at least 60 percent ethanol, preferably at least 62 percent or at least 70 percent isopropanol, is officially recommended,” he noted. “It will kill coronavirus in 15 to 30 seconds, about the time it takes the alcohol to evaporate after it’s applied, so wait for it to evaporate naturally. Sanitizers are not magic. They’re really mostly for convenience, to encourage you to have clean hands when you don’t have access to soap and water or don’t have time to wash.”
Hand sanitizer price gouging
Hand sanitizers are a hot commodity in stores and online, with reports of price gouging on Amazon and products being advertised for 50 percent higher than normal.
“That’s really nasty, people taking advantage of everyone’s anxiety and good public health practice to make an extra dollar,” Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Tennessee, told Healthline.
“I’m really unhappy with that and particularly so since obviously all these interventions to prevent the spread of coronavirus have adverse economic effects,” he added. “There are many people who will have a reduction or some people will even lose their salaries during this period of time.”
Dr. Jaime Friedman, a pediatrician from San Diego, is hopeful President Trump’s declaration last week of a national state of emergency over the COVID-19 outbreak will help combat the price gouging.
“I think it’s terrible. Vulnerable people, like the elderly who may be on a fixed income, are not able to afford inflated prices,” she told Healthline. “Now that there is a national state of emergency, this is illegal and hopefully offenders will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”
DIY products can be unsafe
Those unable to buy sanitizer in stores are hunting for alternatives.
In at least one case, there were serious health consequences.
A boy in New Jersey suffered burns after using a spray sanitizer that had been made by the owner of a local 7-Eleven store. The owner had mixed water with foaming sanitizer that’s commercially available but not intended for resale and put the mixture into a spray bottle.
The 11-year-old boy who used the product suffered chemical burns to his arms and legs. It’s reported that 14 bottles of the spray were sold at the store before police were notified.
Friedman says consumers should always check the label when purchasing a hand sanitizer product to ensure it’s legitimate.
“People should look for bottles that are properly labeled with ingredients listed on the label. A spray is not a typical way to apply sanitizer, so this should be the first sign that this was not an appropriate product,” she said.
“This brings up another common mistake I see: people using disinfectant wipes intended for surfaces, on their hands,” Friedman added. “This is not advisable, as these wipes may contain bleach or other ingredients not meant for consumption or use on skin. The containers will say to wash hands after use and to also wipe down food surfaces after use.”