Your Hand Sanitizer Questions Explained

Your Hand Sanitizer Questions Explained

  • This page was last updated at July 06, 2020.

Hand sanitizer is not a replacement for hand washing. However, using a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol can help prevent the spread of bacteria and viruses in situations where you can’t wash your hands [7]. It is also useful for use after hand washing or in-between hand washing.

There’s no debating that hand washing is much more effective than using hand sanitizer alone [7]. Handwashing with soap and water provides the most effective hand hygiene against COVID-19 [5]. It should always be the primary method of hand hygiene. When you need to disinfect your hands more frequently, hand sanitizer can be of help.


Using Hand Sanitizer- Considerations

When it comes to hand sanitizers, an alcohol concentration between 60–95% is most effective [7]. Keep in mind, that they still may not work equally on all types of germs- some are resistant. Luckily, COVID-19 is not one of those types.

Here are some quick tips and useful points to consider when using hand sanitizer [7,5]:

  • Soap and water are more effective at removing certain kinds of germs
  • Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can inactivate many types of microbes with correct use
  • Use enough volume of the sanitizers and wait until it dries completely
  • Hand sanitizers are less effective when hands are visibly dirty or greasy
  • Hand sanitizers aren’t designed to remove harmful chemicals from hands
  • Hand washing mechanically removes germs and microbes
  • Hand sanitizer inactivates germs and microbes

What Is Hand Sanitizer Made Of?

Hand sanitizer is made of about 70% alcohol and 30% aloe vera gel, and other inactive ingredients to give it its consistency [4]. The alcohol used is usually ethyl alcohol. This is the same as rubbing alcohol and isopropyl alcohol, in this context.

Hand sanitizer works by dissolving the outer coating of microbes like bacteria and viruses [4]. Essentially, it burns off the microbe’s “skin.” Normal hand sanitizer will not burn your skin, but it may sting if you have a cut.

However, non-alcohol hand sanitizers do exist. Hand sanitizers with alcohol are much more effective than non-alcohol hand sanitizers [7].

Formulating Hand Sanitizer

US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the World Health Organization (WHO) have all issued special measures due to COVID-19 [5]. These organizations are allowing and even encouraging unregulated hand sanitizer production.

Their aim is to enable manufacturers who stock hand sanitizer ingredients and have them on hand to produce near-retail quality hand sanitizer during the shortage [5]. The FDA has even issued specific guidance instructing manufacturers on how to do so.

DIY Hand Sanitizers

Hand sanitizer is an FDA over-the-counter-drug that cannot, under normal circumstances, be manufactured outside of an unregulated facility [6]. In these abnormal times, DIY hand sanitizer may be a great option for protecting yourself and preventing the spread of COVID-19.

You need a final alcohol dilution of at least 60% alcohol to be an effective hand sanitizer [1]. In DIY hand sanitizer, it is best to aim for 75% just to be safe. The best kind of alcohol for DIY hand sanitizer is 99% isopropyl alcohol (not industrial).

For a precision approach, you’ll need to perform some dilution math to figure out what your alcohol concentration will be after adding other ingredients. If your math is rusty, there are online calculators that can help.

If you would rather risk “eyeballing” it, you can also try these simple recipes [Ashworth]:

The Quick Gel DIY Hand Sanitizer Recipe

Mix three parts of alcohol with one part ale vera gel [1]. If desired, add two or three drops of tea tree oil. Supplies needed:

  • Isopropyl alcohol
  • Aloe vera gel
  • Tea tree oil (optional)

The DIY Hand Sanitizer Spray Recipe

Aloe vera gel is very sticky on the skin [1]. That can be annoying and uncomfortable. If you have access to some other ingredients, a nicer DIY hand sanitizer spray can be made. Here is a list of the supplies you will need:

  • Isopropyl alcohol
  • Glycerol or glycerin (can be bought online; moisturizer; optional)
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Distilled water (can use boiled water but cool first)
  • Spray bottle
  • Essential oil (optional)

Steps for making DIY hand sanitizer spray:

  1. Measure and combine 12 fluid ounces of alcohol with 2 teaspoons of glycerol
  2. Add 1 tablespoon of hydrogen peroxide
  3. Add 3 fluid ounces of distilled water (be sure ¾ of the mix is alcohol)
  4. Add a few drops of essential oil if desired
  5. Pour the solution into spray bottles

The Dangers of DIY Hand Sanitizers

Making DIY hand sanitizers may seem like a good way to help in a time of crisis. However, there are some dangers to keep in mind [6]. The first is that hand sanitizers are usually made in FDA approved and regulated facilities. These facilities have stringent standards, standardized formulas, and standardized manufacturing ingredients.

DIY hand sanitizers are bound to be “a little off” in terms of their consistency. DIY hand sanitizer recipes simply lack the sophisticated manufacturing infrastructure to produce a standardized product. More concerning is that they could be off in their potency against microbes.

Common DIY Hand Sanitizer Problems

  • Incorrect percentage of alcohol
  • Tools used to make DIY hand sanitizer are not sterile and could introduce germs
  • Additional ingredients like essential oils could cause allergic reactions
  • Ingredients (rubbing alcohol and aloe vera gel) are as scarce as real hand sanitizer
  • Homemade hand sanitizer likely won’t have the same consistency

Alcohol Quality and Potency

Simply put, the less alcohol, the more germs [6]. Likewise, worse quality alcohol, and there will also be less able to stop germs. Vodka is not an alternative to rubbing alcohol because it is only around 40% alcohol. Industrial grade 99% alcohol is used in cleaning electronics. However, this type of alcohol is much to harsh to be used on the skin.

Cross Contamination

Another concern is that the DIY hand sanitizer itself becomes contaminated and spreads germs onto you [6]. Homes are not like the sterile production facilities used to make real hand sanitizer. All homemade products have a higher risk of carrying germs into the final product.

Preventing COVID-19 With Face Masks and Hand Sanitizer

Hand hygiene and face maks are critical steps to protect yourself from COVID-19 infection. Hand sanitizer has an important role in this as well. It is good to use before and after taking a face mask on or off. Also for using after you come in contact with shared surfaces like light switches and doorknobs.

To protect yourself from infection and prevent COVID-19 spread, you should disinfect your hands more frequently [3]. Excessive hand washing can cause skin irritation, so alternatives like hand sanitizer offer some comfort and safety. Finally, you should keep hand sanitizer accessible in high traffic areas. Doing this will encourage more frequent hand disinfection.

How to Use Hand Sanitizer Correctly

First, read the manufacturer’s directions on the bottle [CDC]. They will tell you exactly how their product is supposed to be used. Following the manufacturer’s directions will allow the hand sanitizer to work at its best. In general, you will apply the product to the palm of your hand. Then you will rub your hands together until they are dry. Some hand sanitizers may feel sticky after they dry because of the aloe vera ingredient or other inactive ingredients.

Hand Hygiene Tips

Finally, here are some basic tips for good hand hygiene [2]:

  • Wash hands with soap and water for at least twenty seconds
  • Use hand sanitizer when you are not able to wash your hands
  • Avoid touching your face with unwashed hands
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then discard it in the trash
  • Cough into your elbow if you do not have a tissue
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces frequently, especially ones that get touched


  1. Ashworth, B. (2020, April 15). How to Make Your Own Hand Sanitizer. Retrieved April 19, 2020, from Wired website:
  2. Carlos, W. G., Dela Cruz, C. S., Cao, B., Pasnick, S., & Jamil, S. (2020). Novel wuhan (2019-nCoV) coronavirus. American journal of respiratory and critical care medicine, 201(4), P7-P8. Retrieved from
  3. Cowling, B. J., & Aiello, A. E. (2020). Public Health Measures to Slow Community Spread of Coronavirus Disease 2019. The Journal of infectious diseases. Retrieved from
  4. Fawcett, K. (2017, November 29). How Hand Sanitizer Works (And Why It Isn’t a Substitute for Soap). Mentalfloss. Retrieved from
  5. Hand sanitizer information for compounders. (2020). USP. Retrieved from
  6. Parker-Pope, T. Mixing Your Own Hand Sanitizer? (2020). The New York Times. Retrieved from
  7. Show Me the Science – When & How to Use Hand Sanitizer in Community Settings. (2020). The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Retrieved from