by Julia Getzelman, MD

If you’ve been to the store or looked online lately, you may have noticed that the virtual and real life shelves that used to be full of hand sanitizing products are bare. As one local store clerk remarked to me, “Panic buying is great for our business, but it’s terrible for the world.” So true. The person with a big stash of hand sanitizer might feel “prepared” for the COVID-19 pandemic after overbuying, but while that product just sits around in their cabinet, it’s not helping anyone.

The detrimental impact of COVID-19 “panic buying” has become obvious in the global mask shortage and related price-gouging. As we explained in our previous post, if you’re a member of the general public in the United States who doesn’t have a cough and is not treating infected patients, you shouldn’t bother wearing a mask for your day to day activities at this point. This advice has been consistently reflected in other thoughtful, responsible articles and reports. But Americans are apparently still buying masks in an attempt to soothe their psyches. As a result of the public’s hoarding, the individuals who need the masks, like health workers who are treating patients, may not be able to get them as easily (or at all).

A similar problem is happening now with hand sanitizer. For people who generally have easy access to soap and water throughout the day, hand sanitizer is nice to have, but not a necessity. Thorough hand washing for 20 seconds with plain old soap and water is one of the best ways to clean your hands and stop the spread of germs, including the COVID-19 virus. But if you don’t have easy access to a sink, hand sanitizer will be more important for you day-to-day. What can you do if you run out of hand sanitizer while this shortage persists?

First, consider if you can change how you go through your day, relying more on hand washing and less on hand sanitizer. This shift may help you stay healthier in the long run.

Second, you can make your own hand sanitizer. We’ve gotten so used to relying on pre-packaged products that it’s easy to forget that we can make a lot of these things ourselves out of simple ingredients we probably already have around the house.

It’s generally accepted that alcohol-based hand sanitizers (ABHS) are more effective than their alcohol-free counterparts. ABHS dissolve the outer coating, or envelope, of many (but not all) viruses and bacteria, which kills them. Alcohol solutions containing 60% to 95% alcohol are most effective. While a large number of the DIY hand sanitizer recipes available for free online DO NOT include an adequate percentage of alcohol to be effective, the recipe we’ve provided below does. Just as there’s a right way to wash your hands, there’s also a right way to apply hand sanitizer. One must apply the product to the palm and rub the product all over the surfaces of both hands until they are dry. But ABHS won’t work well if hands are greasy or dirty, so if you’ve been working in the garden or playing sports, you’ll have to find some soap and water to clean your hands. Remember to keep ABHS out of the reach of children (unless you’re helping them apply it to their hands) because if they drink it, they can get alcohol poisoning.

GetzWell’s Simple & Effective Hand Sanitizer Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup 91% (or higher percentage) rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol or ethanol)
  • 8-10 drops essential oil—this ingredient is optional, but smells great. Try lavender, vanilla, or peppermint oil. Avoid citrus oils because they can increase sun sensitivity for some people.
  • For a sanitizer you can pump or squeeze out of a bottle, add: 1/4 cup aloe vera gel
  • For a sanitizer you can spray, skip the aloe vera gel and add: 1/4 cup vegetable glycerin, witch hazel, or water.

Tools:

  • Bowl and spoon
  • Funnel
  • Recycled liquid soap or hand sanitizer bottle(s)

Mix all the ingredients in the bowl. Using the funnel, transfer the mixture to your container(s). Keep the container(s) closed to avoid evaporation.

Finally, remember that preparedness isn’t the same as “panic buying.” Those photos on social media of empty shelves at Costco or Trader Joe’s? They are not a sign that you’re missing out on something.

Any questions? Please reach out and let us know how we can help.