You can’t always count on stores to keep their shelves well-stocked with hand sanitizer, especially during long, cold winters with rampant cold and flu, not to mention COVID-19.

During the holiday rush, hand sanitizer is one of several essential items that tends to fly off the shelves.

I recommend learning how to make your own! It’s incredibly easy to make, and this way, you can customize your sanitizer to suit your liking.

Sick of overpowering smells? Or that dry feeling that lingers for ages after sanitizing? With a few small alterations, you can tailor your custom hand sanitizer for your skin type and scent preferences.

homemade-hand-sanitizer-against-virus

In this short guide, I’ll outline the basic ingredients and steps for making two kinds of hand sanitizer:

  • Gel
  • Spray

For each recipe, I’ll cover some of the common modifications you may want to consider. And finally, I’ll answer frequently asked questions, such as how hand sanitizer works and whether the homemade version is effective (spoiler alert: it is! So long as you have a high enough alcohol percentage).

Before we get started, I’ll mention upfront that I am not a doctor and cannot make medical or health claims. I’m just someone who has done a good deal of research into this topic, and has experience making my own sanitizers, scrubs, lip balms, soaps, and many other self-care items.

I’ve compiled everything I know here into this guide and have included some links to relevant guidance from the CDC and WHO—I hope it is useful for you and that you have a safe and healthy holiday season!

How to Make Hand Sanitizer Gel

This easy gel recipe requires only 2 to 3 ingredients and can be whipped up in minutes.

homemade-hand-sanitizer-gel

Ingredients

  • 2/3 cup of 99% rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol) OR ethanol
  • 1/3 cup of aloe vera gel
  • 5-10 drops of essential oil (optional) – more on which kinds to choose below!

Equipment

  • Bowl (large enough for mixing ~1 cup of ingredients above)
  • Spoon
  • Funnel
  • Bottle with pump dispenser (or similar container for holding your finished product)

Instructions

  1. Assemble your ingredients.
  2. Measure out 2/3 cup of the rubbing alcohol and 1/3 cup of aloe vera gel. Or, scale up the recipe accordingly but make sure to keep consistent ratios.
  3. Add all ingredients to the bowl.
  4. Mix well with the spoon.
  5. Pour your mixture into the container or bottle you’ve selected, using your funnel.
  6. Wait 72 hours to ensure that any germs introduced while making your sanitizer or lurking in your container have been wiped out.
  7. Use your hand sanitizer! Dispense some onto your hands and rub thoroughly until dry.

homemade-hand-sanitizer-and-masks

Modifications & Substitutions

Now let’s take a look at some of the modifications you might make to this basic recipe.

Rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol) or ethanol

The key ingredient to an effective hand sanitizer is the rubbing alcohol or ethanol. Your final mixture (with all ingredients added) needs to be at least 60% alcohol (and up to 95%), according to the guidelines released by the CDC

In my recipe above, I recommend working with 99% rubbing alcohol or ethanol. So some basic math: If you combine 2 portions of 99% alcohol with 1 portion of a non-alcoholic substance like aloe vera gel (plus a few drops of essential oil), you end up with approximately 66% alcohol. High enough to be effective.

You should be able to find 90 – 99% rubbing alcohol in stores. Is 90% alcohol a high enough percentage to use the same recipe amounts? Yes, just. Mixing 2 parts of 90% alcohol with 1 part of aloe vera gel yields about 60% alcohol.

Now, I’ve given 60% alcohol as a minimum standard for your final product, and the recipe I’ve recommended yields a mixture of around 66%. If you want something even more potent, simply adjust the ratio: ¾ cup of 99% rubbing alcohol + ¼ cup aloe vera gel = around 74% alcohol.

What if I only have 70% rubbing alcohol?

Some rubbing alcohol and ethanol is 70% alcohol instead of 90 – 99%. This might be all you can find in the store or all you have handy around the house. You can sanitize your hands with this, but you can’t really add much to it to improve the texture, scent, or feel on your skin. If 70% alcohol is all you’ve got, I recommend only adding a few drops of essential oil. Otherwise, you risk diluting it too much.

Aloe vera gel

aloe-vera-gel-for-hand-sanitizer

The aloe vera gel is not the active germ-killing ingredient in this homemade hand sanitizer. It’s included to help moisturise and protect your hands from the drying effects of the alcohol. You can therefore substitute other emollients for it if you wish or if you have others already available at home.

It is also possible to skip the aloe vera gel, but remember to put on some hand lotion after sanitizing! Otherwise, the alcohol will dry out your hands.

Essential oils

essential-oils-for-homemade-hand-sanitizer

All sorts of essential oils make incredible additions to homemade hand sanitizers. Some of my favourites include:

  • Tea tree oil – an antimicrobial oil that smells fresh, crisp, and clean
  • Lavender oil – super calming
  • Lemon oil and orange oil – zesty and invigorating
  • Peppermint oil – another bright and energizing scent
  • Clove oil – perfect for the holidays

You can also mix in drops from multiple oils. Lavender and lemon is a classic combination. The nice thing about making your own sanitizer is that you can make the scent as intense (or not) as you like.

And make sure to only put in several drops—essential oils are quite powerful and are best enjoyed in small doses.

How to Make Hand Sanitizer Spray

This spray recipe is based on the one provided by the World Health Organization (Guide to Local Production: WHO-recommended Handrub Formulations).

homemade-hand-sanitizer-spray

Ingredients

  • 12 fluid ounces of 99% isopropyl alcohol
  • 2 teaspoons of glycerol or glycerine
  • 1 tablespoon of hydrogen peroxide
  • 3 fluid ounces (4-5 tablespoons) of distilled water (or water that has been boiled and then cooled)
  • 5-8 drops of essential oil (optional)

Equipment

  • Bowl (for combining ingredients)
  • Teaspoon and tablespoon measures
  • Spoon or implement for mixing
  • Spray bottle

Instructions

  1. Assemble your ingredients.
  2. Measure out the appropriate amounts. Or, scale up the recipe accordingly but make sure to keep consistent ratios.
  3. Add the rubbing alcohol to your bowl, then add glycerol and mix.
  4. Add the hydrogen peroxide and mix.
  5. Add the distilled water and mix.
  6. Add your essential oil and mix. 
  7. Pour your mixture into the spray .
  8. Wait 72 hours to ensure that any germs introduced while making your sanitizer or lurking in your container have been wiped out.
  9. Use your hand sanitizer! Spritz it on your hands, or spray some on a paper towel to use as a wipe.

Modifications & Substitutions

Rubbing alcohol

diy-hand-sanitizer-ingredients

The same considerations about alcohol percentage that I detailed above apply here: sufficient alcohol percentage is key to making an effective sanitizer. Your final mixture should be between 60 – 95% alcohol. So if you adjust the ingredient ratios make sure you’re still hitting that range.

Here are a few back-of-the-envelope calculations:

As written, this recipe adds up to approximately 16 fluid ounces total. This comprises:

  • 12 fl. oz. rubbing alcohol
  • 3 fl. oz. distilled water
  • 1 fl. oz. (more or less) of all other ingredients.

By volume then, the rubbing alcohol is around 12/16 of the total mixture, or ¾. If you use 99% rubbing alcohol, that leads to a final alcohol percentage of around 74%. Perfect!

If you use 95% rubbing alcohol, your final mixture will be around 71% alcohol total.

Using 90% rubbing alcohol, your final mixture will end up at about 68% alcohol.

So as you can see, if you want to add in all sorts of other ingredients—for moisturising and adding scents—it’s better to start with a higher percentage rubbing alcohol that can then be diluted.

Glycerol or glycerine – an emollient

This ingredient is included in the recipe to prevent your hands from drying out—just like the aloe vera gel in the last recipe. Alternatives include fractionated coconut oil or other nut/seed oils that are safe for the skin, such as jojoba oil. I’ve got a bottle of vitamin E oil that I like to add to all sorts of things, hand sanitizer included, as it leaves my skin feeling soft and smooth.

If you don’t have any glycerol or suitable alternative at hand, that’s ok—your sanitizer will still be effective! But make sure to put on some hand lotion afterward to keep your hands moist.

Essential oils

As with the hand sanitizer gel, you can add a dash of essential oils to improve the scent of your homemade concoction.

Which recipe should I choose?

Both recipes are great, and the one you choose will depend on your personal preferences.

hand-sanitizer-gel-and-spray

I recommend the hand sanitizer gel (Recipe #1) if you want a super quick and easy recipe. With only two necessary ingredients (plus optional essential oil drops), this recipe is pared down to the fundamentals.

What are the downsides? Some people don’t like the feel of gel, and the aloe vera can leave your hands feeling a little sticky. So if you want something lighter, go for the spray (Recipe #2).

The sanitizer spray requires a few extra ingredients, but it provides a fine mist that sit lighter on the skin. And if you prefer the feel of a spray, it’s not that much harder to make and is definitely worth it.

Frequently Asked Questions

Overall, I find these two recipes incredibly simple and straightforward to follow, especially Recipe #1 for sanitizer gel, which I can whip up in about 5 minutes. There aren’t many ingredients here, and there are no difficult techniques. My cooking and baking experiments are far more complicated!

But you may still have some questions. I’ve gathered FAQs here and done my best to provide informed answers, including links to relevant and reliable sources.

Does homemade hand sanitizer actually work?

Yes—as long as the alcohol percentage of the final product is sufficiently high. Again, the CDC recommends a range of 60 – 95% alcohol. I’ve done my best to indicate approximate percentages for the recipes recommended here, and I encourage you to calculate percentages for your own sanitizers.

How does sanitizer work?

The active ingredient in hand sanitizers is the alcohol. A concentration of alcohol of around 70% is highly effective at killing both bacteria (by disrupting the cell membrane) and many viruses (by disrupting the outer coat of the virus).

Hand sanitizer is not perfect—but sanitizers with the recommended alcohol percentage (60 – 95%) are known to work well.

Is homemade hand sanitizer safe?

As with literally everything on earth, there are some potential risks to homemade hand sanitizer (and to store-bought sanitizers). For example, you might be allergic to one or more of the ingredients (more on this below), or you might accidentally ingest some or get it in your eyes (try your best not to get it anywhere near your mouth and eyes).

Some physicians have recommended against DIY hand sanitizers on the grounds that people making sanitizer at home are likely to mess up the proportions and make an ineffective product. If this is something you are concerned about, my advice is always to check in with your doctor.

In my personal opinion, getting the ratios correct is certainly something to be careful about—but I think that anyone who can follow a baking recipe can probably follow a DIY hand sanitizer recipe.

how-to-make-hand-sanitizer-spray

How do I make sure I get the proportions right?

The two recipes above should have you covered! In the “Modifications & Substitutions” sections, I also indicate how each recipe might be tweaked, and how that would affect the alcohol percentage.

If math is not your strong suit, you can also use an online calculator like this one to check on ingredient proportions.

What other precautions should I take?

  • Keep in mind that ethanol and rubbing alcohol are both very flammable, so store them in a cool, dry, flame-free location.
  • Wash your hands (soap and water) before you make your sanitizer, and use clean equipment. It’s also best to let your sanitizer sit for 72 hours after making it, so that lingering bacterial spores are eliminated before use.
  • Do not ingest your hand sanitizer (this applies to store-bought sanitizers too).
  • Apply your homemade hand sanitizer only to your hands. Do not use it on your face, avoid contact with your eyes, and do not use it to sanitize surfaces around your house.

How do I know if I’m allergic to the ingredients in my homemade hand sanitizer?

As a general rule of thumb, when you’re making your own cosmetics and toiletries: If you have any concerns about certain ingredients or potential allergic reactions, it is always best to consult with your doctor.

Here are some tips for preventing skin irritation and allergic reactions: First of all, it’s important to prevent skin irritation in the first place by diluting ingredients such as essential oils properly. You’ll notice that the above recipes call for only a few optional drops—that’s because these oils need to be well diluted in a carrier oil to avoid irritating your skin.

If you have nut allergies, choose your carrier oils accordingly and stay away from nut-based oils (for example, hazelnut oil or almond oil).

Some people have allergies or sensitivities to essential oils, even in small quantities. So if you experience symptoms such as skin itching, redness, or scaling, these may be signs of allergic contact dermatitis or irritant contact dermatitis.

In these cases, stop using the essential oils and let your skin heal. Afterward, you can try a different oil (just a few drops so it’s well diluted), or simply make your sanitizer without adding essential oils.

To find out whether you’re allergic to a particular oil in advance, you can conduct a patch test. This involves a few simple steps to see how your skin responds to a small quantity of the oil:

  1. Wash your forearm and pat dry.
  2. Take a couple drops of diluted essential oil and pat them onto a patch of skin on your arm.
  3. Place a bandage over the area, and keep it dry for 24 hours.
  4. Check for any irritation during this time, which may indicate an allergic reaction.

When to seek a doctor? In most cases, allergic reactions to diluted essential oils are mild and resolve without medical attention. But if symptoms persist or worsen, it’s a good idea to call your doctor.

If you ingest your sanitizer, or if you experience anaphylaxis (including symptoms such as a swollen throat, trouble breathing, vomiting, cramping, or difficulty swallowing), seek immediate emergency care.

Can I also add or substitute [fill-in-the-blank] extra ingredient?

Maybe? It depends. In some cases, substitutions are pretty straightforward, for example, if you’re swapping out one emollient (glycerine) for another (fractionated coconut oil). Or if you’re adding an extra drop of a different essential oil like cinnamon bark or eucalyptus.

But don’t just go adding things in without doing your research. Some ingredients just don’t mix well together. And you want to beware adding too many extraneous ingredients in addition to the alcohol—add too many extras, and your alcohol percentage won’t be high enough.

Conclusion

I hope this guide helps you enjoy a safe and healthy winter season! One of my favourite indoor activities, when the temperatures drop and the sidewalks are covered in snow, is to hunker down inside and concoct all sorts of home crafts: lip scrubs and balms, soaks, bath fizzies, soaps, lotions, face masks, everything you can think of.

Naturally, during cold, flu, and COVID season, homemade hand sanitizer is on my list. I love the freedom and flexibility of making things for myself, which gives me ultimate control over scent, texture, and ingredients.

Do you plan to make homemade hand sanitizer this winter? Which recipe appeals more to you?

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