• Do natural hand sanitisers work? Can you make your own?

    March 12, 2020 • BEAUTY, DIY RECIPES, ECO HOME, LIFE

    Do natural hand sanitisers work and can you make your own

    With the outbreak of the serious virus COVID-19, known as coronavirus, we are naturally concerned about whether natural hand sanitisers will be as effective as synthetic chemicals.  Here, we explain how best to sanitise your hands, the toxic chemicals you can do without, and how to make your own hand sanitiser.

    Many natural hand sanitisers on the market using essential oils are effective against bacteria such as those that cause vomiting and diarrhoea, but can only make antiviral claims if the product has been approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

    The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend hand sanitisers with at least 60% alcohol to protect against germs (1).  So, when buying a hand sanitiser, always look for the ingredients listed on the package including the percentage of alcohol.  Some products contain the alcohol substitute benzalkonium chloride, which isn’t as good at killing germs.

    The ingredients in a hand sanitiser will generally comprise:

    • Ethyl alcohol / Ethanol / Isopropyl alcohol (must be 60% or more)
    • Water or Aloe Vera gel – simply there to dilute the alcohol and add some moisture to counter the drying effect of the alcohol
    • Essential oils – for additional anti-bacterial power and fragrance
    • Glycerine – to thicken the liquid and make it stick to your hands (usually where the palm oil is hiding)

    In many commercial hand sanitizers, synthetic fragrances, preservatives, and even triclosan are added, but they are not needed (read more on that below).

    How to best sanitise your hands?

    Wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds

    The best way to sanitise your hands is to wash them very well with soap and water.   Hand sanitisers are not a substitute for this.  They are an extra precaution if you feel it is needed.

    The reason washing with soap and water is most effective is because coronaviruses are encased in a lipid envelope, or said another way, a layer of fat.  Soap can break that fat apart and make the virus unable to infect you. Soap also makes the skin slippery, helping to dislodge the germs as you rub and wash away. (2)

    But… you have to wash your hands properly and for long enough. You need to cover all areas including the back of your hands, the base of the palm, and fingernail area.

    And how often should you wash your hands?  A lot!  Before, during and after preparing food, before eating, after going to the toilet, blowing your nose, sneezing, coughing, touching garbage – and for people working in retail and customer service, after handling cash or credit cards, or touching surfaces that others have!

    Dry your hands

    On a clean towel of course.  We strongly recommend carrying your own small towel from home in your bag, giving you total peace of mind.

    Use a hand sanitiser with at least 60% alcohol and allow to dry on your hands

    Use hand sanitiser when you feel required, and only if washing with soap and water is not possible.  Apply to dry hands and make sure to use enough so you cover all the surfaces on your hands.  Rub the hand sanitiser around your hands until they feel dry, which may take about 30 seconds.  If hands are visibly dirty or greasy, the sanitiser will not be as effective.

    Do natural hand sanitisers work and can you make your own

    Toxins to avoid!

    Tricolosan – the synthetic ingredient now banned in hand sanitisers in the USA, but still allowed in toothpaste!?

    Benzalkonium chloride – often labelled as an “alcohol-free formula”, this non-alcohol synthetic product may not work as well for many types of germs

    Synthetic fragrance, PEGs and Phthalates – never needed in any product!

    Triethanolamine – also known as TEA, is a strongly alkaline substance used as surfactant and pH adjusting chemical.  It can be harmful when absorbed into the body over a long period of time. Short periods of exposure can cause allergic reactions.

    Carbomer – a synthetic polymer made from acrylic acid.  It is added for texture.

    For background, this is the ingredients listed on Dettol:  Alcohol Denat., Water, PEG/PPG-17/6 Copolymer, Propylene Glycol, Acrylates/C10-30 Alkyl Acrylate Crosspolymer, Tetrahydroxypropyl Ethylenediamine, Aloe Barbadensis Gel, Fragrance, Limonene, CI19140, CI42090.

    How to make your own hand sanitiser

    We are very conscious that at this time, many people can not access commercial hand sanitiser, or it is being sold at ridiculously inflated prices that they can not afford.

    Essentially this recipe is just showing you what is listed on the ingredients of most natural hand sanitisers – they are made the same way.

    CAUTION:  Not intended as your only defence against infection!  Number one is always hand washing properly, as above. An alcohol-based hand sanitiser is one part of your total infection control measures.  This is not a hospital grade sanitiser.

    We are not guaranteeing that this recipe will protect you against any viruses.  There are many factors that come into play including how much you use and how long you rub it around your hands for.

    The alcohol does all the work. So you must be very careful to use use at least 60% alcohol in the formulation – 70-80% would be even better so there is a margin for error.  Please see the WHO guide referenced below (3).

    Which alcohol is best to use?

    Acquiring an appropriate alcohol right now is the biggest challenge. The sale of pure ‘drinkable’ alcohol requires a permit, hence most alcohol sold for cleaning and sanitising purposes is ‘denatured’ – meaning that chemicals have been added to make it taste bitter and unpalatable. The denaturants used are often Denatonium benzoate and Methyl isobutyl ketone (MIBK).  Methylated spirit is alcohol for general use made unfit for drinking by the addition of methanol.

    You can use:

    • Pure Ethanol made from sugar cane – often 95% alcohol, 5% water. Can only be purchased in small quantities from specialist retailers unless you have an alcohol permit.
    • Ethanol (Denatured)*
    • Ethyl alcohol – the alcohol found in alcoholic drinks such as beer, brandy, or whiskey. See note below on vodka.
    • Isopropyl alcohol – made from propylene gas.  Please note that “rubbing alcohol” is a solution of around 70% isopropyl alcohol, with the rest made up of water, denaturants and other chemicals.

    Avoid any alcohol that is not intended for applying to the skin.

    *What about ‘Ethanol (Alcohol Denatured)’ or ‘BioEthanol’?  Denatured with benzoate and MIBK, these are used in conventional hand sanitisers such as Dettol.   They are not natural, neither is Isopropyl alcohol, but my personal belief is that synthetic chemicals do have an important purpose to protect us against a serious illness.  In many countries, people do not have the privilege of being able to track down a natural alcohol.  Hence the WHO recommends using Isopropyl alcohol or Ethanol. (3)

    Hand sanitiser spray recipe

    We like to make a spray to avoid the need for any aloe gel or glycerine.

    • 70% alcohol (if using a 100% alcohol – if the substance is less than 100% alcohol you will need to adjust proportions accordingly by decreasing the water)
    • 30% demineralised water (make your own by filtering or boiling water)
    • Essential oils – your choice of germ busting oils such as tea tree*, lavender, eucalyptus, rosemary, peppermint, orange.

    The essential oils are predominantly there for fragrance and some additional antibacterial fire-power.

    In simple cup measurements, 2/3 cup of pure alcohol and just under 1/3 cup of demineralised water, with 1 teaspoon of essential oils to make up the 1/3 cup.

    Place into an empty spray bottle you already have, or spray bottles like this

    *Tea essential oil has been found to fight against bacteria, fungi, and viruses.


    Pure alcohol is highly flammable – keep away from heat and flames.  It is also not to consume – keep out of reach of children, as you would with all hand sanitisers.

    Can I use Vodka to make hand sanitiser?

    Not unless you have access to a special 100% proof vodka.   Most vodka and whiskey in the bottle shop is 40% alcohol, so you will never be able to get it to a 60% concentration!



    (1) https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/show-me-the-science-hand-sanitizer.html

    (2) https://www.webmd.com/lung/news/20200306/power-of-hand-washing-to-prevent-coronavirus

    (3) https://www.who.int/gpsc/5may/Guide_to_Local_Production.pdf

    31 Responses to Do natural hand sanitisers work? Can you make your own?
    1. Jodie
      March 12, 2020 at 8:25 pm

      Where can I buy 70% ethanol?

    2. Ele
      March 12, 2020 at 8:27 pm

      Hi Biome team – where would I buy the sugar cane derived ethanol? I’m finding it difficult to find online.

      • Biome team
        March 13, 2020 at 8:41 am

        Hi Ele and others. Handmade Naturals in Highgate Hill in Brisbane sells a perfume base ethanol.

        • Liz Gilbert
          March 18, 2020 at 1:39 pm

          I Would like to buy ethanol to make hand sanitiser please.Liz Gilbert

    3. Suzy
      March 12, 2020 at 8:44 pm

      Where do you buy sugar cane derived ethanol?

    4. Lauren
      March 12, 2020 at 9:11 pm

      Curious about how to source the ethanol without a permit?

      • Anna
        March 13, 2020 at 6:35 am

        Hi, I found some from Sydney Solvents…… search for bio ethanol. All the isopropyl is sold out.
        The ethanol you can buy without a permit has an ingredient that makes it a denatured alcohol – so it is not fit for consumption. For food grade ethanol you will need a permit.
        The Sydney Solvents website has a good amount of information about each type of alcohol they sell.

        • Biome team
          March 13, 2020 at 8:38 am

          Thank you very much Anna for your helpful contribution :). I have added a lot more info to the post now about the different types of alcohol, as it is quite complicated! I’ve noted as per your comments that the BioEthanol has denaturants added – Denatoium Bensonate 5ppm and MIBK <2%. It is hard to source pure ethanol without denaturants, so while synthetic, it is probably the best option, along with Isopropyl. At least BioEthanol is 99% alcohol, whereas Isopropyl has a less percentage.

      • Biome team
        March 13, 2020 at 8:39 am

        Hi Lauren. There are businesses that have a permit to sell a certain amount on to consumers.

    5. Christopher
      March 13, 2020 at 3:18 am

      Can you use methylated spirits diluted as the alcohol?

      • Biome team
        March 13, 2020 at 8:39 am

        Hi Christopher. I’ve updated the post with info about Methylated spirits. While I personally may not use it unless I had no other option, in theory it is the same as any denatured alcohol / ethanol.

        • Christopher
          March 13, 2020 at 11:46 am

          Thanks, that’s certainly how it appears in the very small print on the bottle. Cheers, C

      • Steve
        March 18, 2020 at 6:21 am

        Don’t use methylated spirits. Contains methanol, which is poisonous, and would be absorbed through the skin. If you could use it, all the recipes on the web would say so – because it’s so easy to source. But the recipes don’t say so, and the reason is methanol.

        • Darren
          March 19, 2020 at 8:26 am

          They used to add methanol hence the name methylated spirits, but it is not used these days, they denature ethanol with the other denaturants

        • Michelle
          March 21, 2020 at 12:32 pm

          Steve my bottle of methylated spirits just says ethanol v/v. Are they meant to write methanol on the bottle if that’s the case?

        • Carmel
          March 22, 2020 at 7:49 pm

          Diggers methylated spirits’ denaturant is less than 1% MIBK. Is thst the same amount of MIBK that Dettol uses?

    6. Anne
      March 13, 2020 at 1:37 pm

      If I use Isopropyl ie rubbing alcohol what are the amounts I should be using?

      • Biome team
        March 13, 2020 at 1:45 pm

        Hello. It will depend on the alcohol % in the Isopropyl or rubbing alcohol.
        If it is a 99% then it would be 2 parts alcohol and 1 part water (2/3 cup alcohol + 1/3 cup)
        91% Isopropyl go 3/4 cup alcohol + 1/4 cup water.
        70% Isopropyl go 9 parts alcohol and 1 part water.

    7. Jacqui
      March 15, 2020 at 10:05 am

      Can I use methylated spirit?

      • March 20, 2020 at 1:34 am

        Another commenter said: “Don’t use methylated spirits. Contains methanol, which is poisonous, and would be absorbed through the skin. If you could use it, all the recipes on the web would say so – because it’s so easy to source. But the recipes don’t say so, and the reason is methanol.”

    8. Michelle Fraser
      March 17, 2020 at 10:29 am

      I have some >99% Isopropyl alcohol which is a solvent/cleaner from Rechochem. It came from a hardware supplier. There are no other ingredients listed on the MSDS, but the information supplied (re inhalation, skin contact) makes it sound very potent. Is this suitable for use in your hand sanitiser recipe?

    9. karen Robinson
      March 17, 2020 at 11:06 am

      Hi I have Strike Antibacterial Wipes with an active ingredient of 0.47%w.w Benzalkonium Chloride..They have been open so starting to dry out Soo can I make them moist again by adding Eucalyptus oil to them?? To use to wipe trolleys door handles etc maybe my hands?

    10. Nyarai Mahupete
      March 18, 2020 at 4:38 am

      Can i use methylated spirit?

      • Rod Smith
        March 21, 2020 at 9:20 am

        Ok but not good for your skin. . Boil water 30% metho 70% bench tops , door handles etc

      • Nita
        March 22, 2020 at 8:59 am

        I think it is not recommended to use Meths as a hand sanitizer because of the methanol additive, but it is very good for sanitising hard surfaces like tiles, glass and stone benchtops (with gloves on), and diluted as recommended on the bottle.

    11. eeen
      March 25, 2020 at 12:36 am

      there’s a lot of confusion on this page and in the comments.
      ethyl alcohol and ethanol are the same thing, so don’t list them as separate categories as if they aren’t.
      in australia, methylated spirits doesn’t normally contain methanol … that’s mostly an american thing; as is the outrage at the idea of using it. methylated spirit and denatured ethanol are almost always the same thing, so being precious about avoiding metho and using the other is silly. typically both are ethanol >95%, water, denatonium (aka bittrex, about 10ppm) and maybe MIBK (hexanone, about .25%). these last two aren’t toxic enough to appear in MSDS sheets. sydney solvents claims to only use bittrex (i’ve seen them claim 1%. this is wildly unlikely. 15ppm is usual for a single denaturant). “diggers” uses afaik bittrex, MIBK & possibly fluorescein (the fluorescent color in dish soap), although there seems to be a general trend towards just bittrex, so that might have changed. possibly bittrex will make your skin taste bitter after it dries (idk)
      in australia, denatured/methylated spirit is usually sourced from grain or sugar cane
      commercial sanitizers have something to counteract the drying quality of the alcohol. most commonly about 1% glycerine, but aloe vera is common too
      the 20-30% water content is important for slowing the evaporation rate, allowing time to kill pathogens. this makes 75% alcohol perfectly fine as a sanitizer base

    12. Solomon k
      March 25, 2020 at 12:46 am

      Can one use 99% propylene glycol to make sannitizer?

    13. John Rowse
      March 27, 2020 at 11:44 am

      Is there something that would make meths (with methynol) safe ot use on skin? Does just the water in a 70 MS:30 water solution render the methynol safe? Or alo vera? Or anything?

    14. Jocelyn Strutt
      March 27, 2020 at 11:47 am

      Can I use the bio-ethanol that i use for my fire heater.

    15. John Rowse
      March 27, 2020 at 11:55 am

      Alternatively, is it possible to get meths without methynol, ane where from?

    16. Diane
      March 27, 2020 at 2:28 pm

      Can i use methylated spirits 98% alcohol mixed into Vaseline intensive hand cream

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