Newsletter: DIY hand sanitizer — maybe not the best idea
I’m Business columnist David Lazarus, with a look today at coronavirus fears and the current scarcity of hand sanitizer.
Concern over the spread of the novel coronavirus has spurred consumers nationwide and throughout the world to stockpile various products — toilet paper, bottled water, canned goods and so on. Experts tell me such behavior may not be entirely rational, but it’s certainly understandable.
“It would not be irrational to do so when risk is largely unknown,” said Ravi Dhar, marketing professor at Yale University and director of the Center for Customer Insights. “Stories about scarcity feed into the frenzy.”
Hand sanitizer was one of the first products to disappear from both real-world and online store shelves, even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says washing your hands with soap and water is generally more effective.
Not surprisingly, the internet very quickly was chockablock with do-it-yourself recipes for home-brew hand sanitizer. So let’s examine if that’s actually a good idea.
Short answer: It’s not an ideal solution, but it can work.
Both the CDC and the World Health Organization note that sanitizers containing at least 60% alcohol can fill the void if soap and water are unavailable. In theory, then, any do-it-yourself concoction with 60% alcohol should do the trick.
However, it’s easy to mess up the mixture, so that’s the first problem. If you don’t get the recipe just right, you might as well be scrubbing with hand lotion — that is, all those nasty little coronavirus germs will laugh off your attempt to terminate them.
Then there’s the aesthetic aspect. Purell and other sanitizer makers add ingredients, such as aloe, that protect your skin from the harshness of rubbing alcohol.
If you don’t do the same, you can dry out your skin, which can actually make you more vulnerable to infection. It also can shatter your dreams of becoming a highly paid hand model.
Oh, and don’t go thinking you can just use liquor. Tito’s Handmade Vodka tweeted last week that its popular libation “is 40% alcohol, and therefore does not meet the current recommendation of the CDC.”
The WHO has its own recipe for DIY sanitizer, but it’s intended primarily for people in regions of the world where it may be tough to get the commercial stuff.
If you’re determined to give home-brew sanitizer a try, here are a few tips to keep in mind:
- Do your homework. There are lots of videos and recipes online right now. Check out a few different ones before starting your own project.
- Make sure you hit the mark when it comes to 60% alcohol content. And use 91% or 99% isopropyl alcohol, which is rubbing alcohol.
- You can also use ethanol, a.k.a. ethyl alcohol, but it has to be the good stuff. Don’t use anything that’s less than 180 proof.
- Give your hands plenty of time to dry. A big mistake many people make is squirting their hands and then wiping them off.
- Don’t skimp on the aloe unless you want sandpaper for skin. If you stir essential oils into the mix, make sure they’re safe. And you’ll probably want to skip perfumes and dyes unless you know they won’t irritate you.
My advice? Wash your hands. A lot. There’s no better precaution.
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Health officials say you should wash your hands for at least 20 seconds to really get the job done — about the same amount of time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice. My colleagues in the Entertainment section served up some other songs to sing if you want to expand your repertoire. Or you could try these handy tunes from the likes of the Beatles, the Pointer Sisters and Styx.