It’s easy to make a simple, effective homemade hand sanitizer. Why would you want to bother? Sometimes it’s hard to find hand sanitizer in a store, it might contain ingredients you don’t want, and it’s cheaper to make it yourself. Here is a basic homemade hand sanitizer recipe that you can customize so it has a pleasing scent, won’t irritate your skin, or targets particular microbes, like viruses or bacteria.
Homemade Hand Sanitizer Ingredients
You only need a few basic ingredients to make hand sanitizer:
- 2/3 cup 99% rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol) or ethanol (grain alcohol)
- 1/3 cup aloe vera gel
- 8-10 drops essential oil (optional)
- Recycled liquid soap or hand sanitizer bottle
The key ingredient here is alcohol. It’s important to only use ethanol (ethyl alcohol or grain alcohol) or isopropyl alcohol (isopropanol or rubbing alcohol), as other kinds of alcohol are toxic. Ethanol-based hand sanitizer is safer for young children who might lick their hands. The higher the percentage of alcohol in the product, the greater its effectiveness will be. However, pure alcohol dries skin and evaporates too quickly to do its work, so aloe vera gel is included as a soothing gel. Essential oils impart a pleasing scent and can boost the effectiveness of the hand sanitizer. Lavender and peppermint smell nice and are antimicrobial. Other good choices include eucalyptus, tea tree, bergamot, lemon balm, oregano, marjoram, thyme, and rosemary. Cinnamon is effective, but can irritate skin.
You can adjust this recipe to include glycerin (helps protect skin) or vitamin E oil (moisturizes). Just be sure the final product is at least 60% alcohol.
To make homemade hand sanitizer, simply mix the ingredients together. You may wish to use a funnel to get the product into the container. Seal the bottle and you’re set!
Antiviral Essential Oils
You can add essential oils to increase hand sanitizer effectiveness against viruses. For example, studies have shown the following essential oils work against the flu virus:
- Bergamot oil
- Eucalyptus oil
- Red thyme oil
- Cinnamon leaf oil
- Tea tree oil
- Lemon balm (also effective against avian influenza or bird flu)
Myrrh is another essential oil with antibacterial and antiviral properties. Cinnamon, wild carrot, eucalyptus, and rosemary oils are effective against many Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria, including some antibiotic resistant strains. A blend of cinnamon, wild carrot, clove, and oregano oils acts against Candida albicans (yeast).
These oils may be purchased separately or are available in commercial blends. One highly-studied blend is doTERRA’s On Guard™, although comparable products exist with similar ingredients. Adding a few drops of these oils to homemade hand sanitizer may increase their effectiveness against whatever you’re hoping to fight. Be aware some people are sensitive to essential oils and they are often toxic to pets. For example, citrus oils are potentially deadly to cats. Most essential oils should be diluted (as in a carrier oil or hand sanitizer) for safe use.
Hand Sanitizer Effectiveness
There are different types of hand sanitizers. This project produces an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. According to the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines, alcohol-based hand sanitizer is among the safest and most effective medicines. Hand sanitizer is most effective when it contains between 60% and 95% alcohol. It kills 99.99% of non-spore forming bacteria in under 30 seconds. Alcohol kills antibiotic-resistant bacteria, TB bacteria, enveloped viruses (e.g., flu, common cold, HIV, Coronavirus), but it does not protect against the rabies virus. It kills most types of fungi. Alcohol-based hand sanitizer is not effective against spores. So, it should not be used as a substitute for hand washing when spores are a concern (e.g., after using the toilet).
Use Hand Sanitizer Properly
No product works unless you use it correctly!
- Apply hand sanitizer to exposed skin surfaces. Be sure to get between fingers, under fingernails, around the thumbs, and around the wrists.
- Thoroughly rub the product into skin for 30 seconds and allow it to air dry.
- Brochot, A., Guilbot, A., Haddioui, L, Roques, C. (2017). “Antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral effects of three essential oil blends.” MicrobiologyOpen. 2017 Aug; 6(4):e00459. doi:10.1002/mbo3.459
- Sandora, T.J.; Shih, M.C.; Goldmann, D.A. (June 2008). “Reducing absenteeism from gastrointestinal and respiratory illness in elementary school students: A randomized, controlled trial of an infection-control intervention”. Pediatrics. 121 (6): e1555–62. doi:10.1542/peds.2007-2597
- Trampuz, Andrej; Widmer, Andreas F. (2004). “Hand Hygiene: A Frequently Missed Lifesaving Opportunity During Patient Care“. Mayo Clinic Proceedings. 79 (1): 109–16. doi:10.4065/79.1.109
- World Health Organization (2019). World Health Organization Model List of Essential Medicines: 21st List 2019. Geneva: World Health Organization.
- Wu, S.; Patel, K.B.; Booth, L.J., et al. (2010). “Protective essential oil attentuates influenze virus infection: An in vitro study in MDCK cells.” BMC Complement Altern Med. 2010; 10:69. doi:10.1186/1472-6882-10-69
Thank you so much for this well researched recipe.
I am currently in the process of making my own hand sanitizer based upon your recipe.
I know it’s not an exact science but how many drops/mililitres of e.g. eucalyptus oil would you recommend adding to a litre of hand sanitizer to maximize its anitmicrobial function. I just need a rough estimate, since I am unfamiliar with thes substances and want to use it effectively and safely.
Recipe above totals 1 cup, so for a 1 litre total you would roughly multiply everything by 4.
I only have access to 70% Isopropyl alcohol. Before the Covid virus pandemic, I rarely saw 90-99% alcohol in any of the retailers in my area. How can I adjust the formula to work with 70% alcohol?
With 70% alcohol, you can’t add much in the way of other ingredients and still stay at the 60% limit recommended by the CDC. So, what you can do is add a few drops of your favorite essential oil and a small amount of aloe or glycerin or hand lotion to improve the texture. Another option is to use the 70% alcohol as-is and then follow up with hand lotion to counter the drying effect.
I’m not sure I asked my question correctly. I thought that the recipe called for 90-99% alcohol so that it could be added it to a gel or lotion at a certain ratio and not risk diluting the alcohol below 70%. Therefore, since I only have 70% alcohol and some Aloe Vera gel, can I still make a sanitizer mixture that would have the consistency of the “typical” store bought sanitizer gel, and still not dilute my mixture below the CDC standards?
The answer is no, you cannot mix aloe or glycerin into 70% alcohol and get a result with the consistency of normal hand sanitizer gel (that meets the CDC standard of 60% or higher alcohol). It’s possible adding a small amount of some type of gelatin might do the trick, but that sounds like more trouble than it’s worth.
Thank you for clearing that up. I was trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. I do that a lot. : )