Thanks to the spread of the coronavirus, stores and online retailers have been selling out of hand sanitizer. Here's how to make a kid-friendly version at home.

By Nicole Harris
Updated March 08, 2020
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Germs have seemingly taken over America in the past few weeks. Not only is the U.S. seeing a particularly bad influenza season, it’s also facing the spread of the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19), a respiratory illness that originated in Wuhan, China. Naturally, people have been preparing for the worst, and they’ve started stockpiling groceries and other necessities—including hand sanitizer.

According to Time, hand sanitizers sales rose 73 percent “in the four weeks ending February 22” when compared to the same timeframe in 2019. Pharmacies and grocery stores have sold out of hand sanitizers, and online retailers have jacked up the prices exponentially. (Newsweek mentions that 24 two-ounce Purell sanitizers were listed on Amazon for $400!)

Before you shell out hundreds of dollars, take note: You can make an affordable, easy, and kid-friendly hand sanitizer at home. Read on for the recipe, with tips for using hand sanitizer safely and effectively.

DIY Hand Sanitizer Recipe

When it comes to eliminating germs, the most effective method is washing your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds, says Christine Schindler, CEO and founder of PathSpot, a hand hygiene system that protects against food-borne illness. But you can also use hand sanitizer in a pinch. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says you should choose an alcohol-based option with at least 60 percent alcohol for maximum effectiveness.

If you’re having trouble finding hand sanitizer at the store, you can make your own at home. You’ll need the following ingredients:

  • ⅔ cup 99 percent isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol)
  • ⅓ cup aloe vera gel
  • Essential oil (optional)
  • Airtight container

In this recipe, isopropyl alcohol is essential for killing germs. The aloe vera prevents the harsh solution from drying out your skin, and the essential oil adds fragrance (although these oils may cause irritation in sensitive skin, so they're not necessary).

You can also change up the measurements as long as you keep the same ratio: ⅔ rubbing alcohol to ⅓ aloe vera gel. "Addition of aloe or essential oils to DIY recipes could contribute to difficulty getting the concentration correct," adds Debra M. Langlois, M.D., an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Michigan. However, per the CDC's recommendations, the DIY kid-friendly hand sanitizer must contain at least 60% alcohol for effectiveness.

To make the sanitizer, start by mixing the rubbing alcohol and aloe vera gel. The ingredients should be stirred until smooth, then you can add drops of essential oil, if you’d like to add scent. Transfer the mixture into an airtight container; you might want to use a funnel to avoid making a mess. 

You can use the DIY hand sanitizer the same way you would a normal one. “Hand sanitizer should be rubbed all over the surface of your hands and fingers, ensuring that there is full coverage,” says Schindler. “Keep rubbing until your hands feel dry.” She also notes that it can take up to five minutes for hand sanitizer to penetrate bacteria and become completely effective. 

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How to Be Sure It's Safe for Kids

According to Adena Rosenblatt, M.D., Ph.D, a pediatric dermatologist at The University of Chicago Comer Children’s Hospital, the ingredients generally shouldn’t be an issue. “Rubbing alcohol is fine for kids” on the skin, she says. “I would be a little cautious about the aloe vera and essential oils because those may cause sensitivity in some kids.” 

Indeed, according to Dr. Langlois, "Per Poison Control, many essential oils can cause rashes when used on the skin. Essential oils can be poisonous when absorbed through the skin, and aloe and essential oils can be poisonous when ingested."

Another concern with DIY hand sanitizer is that kids will use it inappropriately (although that’s a concern with normal hand sanitizer, too). Isopropyl alcohol can be poisonous in small amounts to kids, and it can cause slurred speech, vomiting, sedation, breathing difficulties, respiratory failure, and even death when ingested. Children can also get alcohol poisoning from inhaling large quantities of rubbing alcohol. Alcohol poisoning is an emergency that requires immediate medical attention, says Dr. Langlois.

As a precaution, always store the DIY hand sanitizer away from children, and use it in a well-ventilated room. Also make sure children don’t lick any sanitizer from their hands; rub it into their skin until it’s completely dry. 

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