Properly scrubbing your hands is one of the best ways to stop the spread of germs and viruses and to ensure you don’t get sick. But if you don’t have access to soap and clean water, or if you’re nowhere near a sink, you should carry hand sanitizer to protect your health.
As you’re no doubt aware, bottles of hand sanitizer (Purell, Wet Ones, and the like) keep selling out due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. You can check these Amazon and Walmart listings to see if any are in stock, but make sure you’re not buying mass-manufactured sanitizer that uses methanol, or wood alcohol, which can be toxic when absorbed through the skin or ingested (check here to see hand sanitizer brands to avoid). Also, don’t drink the sanitizer, or any cleaning products, including bleach.
It may be hard to find that Purell, but making your own sanitizer is remarkably easy. You just have to be careful you don’t mess it up and that the tools you use for mixing are properly sanitized; otherwise you could contaminate the whole thing. Also, the World Health Organization recommends letting your concoction sit for a minimum of 72 hours after you’re done. That way the sanitizer has time to kill any bacteria that might have been introduced during the mixing process.
We actually have two recipes for you, along with links to find the ingredients. The first is one you can make with stuff you likely already have, so it’s effective in emergency situations. The second recipe is more complex but easy to make if you do some shopping and planning ahead of time. Another note: A lot of these items are quickly going out of stock because of high demand. There’s a higher chance of finding them at your local drug store, but your first priority is to stay safe.
Updated July 28: We added the FDA’s warning about methanol and refreshed the links and information in this guide.
You’re going to need some alcohol. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, your sanitizer mix must be at least 60 percent alcohol to be effective. But it’s better to get above that—aim for a minimum of 75 percent. A bottle of 99 percent isopropyl alcohol is the best thing to use. Your regular vodka and whiskey are too wimpy and won’t cut it.
The Quick (Gel) Recipe
Mix 3 parts isopropyl alcohol to 1 part aloe vera gel. Add a few drops of tea tree oil to give it a pleasant scent and to align your chakras.
The Better (Spray) Recipe
The aloe mixture gets the job done, but aloe also leaves your skin annoyingly sticky. So, here’s a recipe that’s less sticky and more potent, based on the mix recommended by the WHO.
Mix 12 fluid ounces of alcohol with 2 teaspoons of glycerol. You can buy jugs of glycerol online, and it’s an important ingredient because it keeps the alcohol from drying out your hands. If you can’t find glycerol, proceed with the rest of the recipe anyway and just remember to moisturize your hands after applying the sanitizer.
Mix in 1 tablespoon of hydrogen peroxide, then 3 fluid ounces of distilled or boiled (then cooled) water. (If you’re working with a lower-concentration solution of rubbing alcohol, use far less water; remember, at least ¾ of your final mixture has to be alcohol.)
Load the solution into spray bottles—this isn’t a gel, it’s a spray. You can wet a paper towel with it and use that as a wipe.
If you must, you can add in a splash of essential oil to your concoction to make it smell nice. Just don’t use lavender. Everyone else uses lavender, and your sanitizer is superior.
Some Coronavirus Tips
Whether you’re stocked up on hand sanitizer or not, the CDC recommends that you
Wash your hands regularly. Again, nothing beats washing your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water. Hand sanitizer—even the real, professionally made stuff—should always be used when you’re traveling or unable to wash.
Stay at home. Don’t leave the house except for essential trips like to the grocery store or to see your doctor. This is also called sheltering in place.
Stay at least 6 feet away from other people. This is called social distancing. Keeping your distance makes it hard for the virus to jump from someone else to you (or vice versa) through respiratory droplets. Avoid gatherings of people, which should be easy because you’re staying at home.
Wear a cloth face mask outside the house. The CDC now recommends everyone wear cloth face coverings when out in public where you may be near other people. Read our guide to the Best Face Masks or How to Make Your Own CDC-Approved Cloth Face Mask (and Rules to Follow) to learn the benefit of a mask and how you should wear it. Kids under 2 years old should not wear a mask, nor should anyone who has difficulty breathing or taking it off. Do not buy or hoard medical-grade N95 masks. There is still a shortage of them, and they’re needed by health care professionals.
Avoid touching your face. You could transmit the virus from your hands into your mouth.
Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces. Do it daily, especially if items or people leave or enter your home. Here’s our Covid-19 cleaning guide.
We also have tips on what supplies and gear to buy, Covid-19’s typical symptoms (and what to do if you think you’re sick), gear for working at home, and a guide to staying sane while working from home.
More From WIRED on Covid-19
- How Taiwan’s unlikely digital minister hacked the pandemic
- Universities need Covid-19 tests to reopen. Few have them
- What does it mean to say a new drug “works”?
- To navigate risk in a pandemic, you need a color-coded chart
- The ultimate quarantine self-care guide
- Read all of our coronavirus coverage here