We Couldn't Find Hand Sanitizer In The D.C. Region, So We Tried Making Our Own As WAMU's audience producer, Alexander McCall spends a lot of his day online. He noticed an increasing number of conversations about making your own hand sanitizer — so he gave it a shot.
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NPR logo We Couldn't Find Hand Sanitizer In The D.C. Region, So We Tried Making Our Own

We Couldn't Find Hand Sanitizer In The D.C. Region, So We Tried Making Our Own

Alcohol, hydrogen peroxide and aloe vera are three main ingredients commonly found in DIY hand sanitizer recipes. Tyrone Turner/WAMU hide caption

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Tyrone Turner/WAMU

Correction: An earlier version of this story claimed the WHO's hand sanitizer formulation requires 70% isopropyl alcohol. The WHO's recipe actually calls for 99.8% alcohol. Read that full recipe here.

This story was originally intended as an experiment to show how homemade hand sanitizers can be made; however, this formulation would not meet CDC- or WHO-recommended levels of alcohol and would be ineffective.

This story was updated on August 20 at 7:10 a.m.

Amid a growing number of cases of coronavirus around the country — and fears of an outbreak in the D.C. area — there's been a run on hand sanitizer, making it a hot, hard-to-find commodity.

So what's an out-of-luck, trying-to-stay-healthy Washingtonian to do?

First of all, wash your hands on a regular basis. Use soap and warm water, and wash them for at least 20 seconds, per the advice of the Centers for Disease Control.

You can sing "Happy Birthday" twice to yourself while you do. Or if you're tired of singing that, there are plenty of other options, too, like "Love on Top" by Beyoncé.

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"But wait," I hear you saying. "What if I don't have access to soap and water and just need a quick sanitizing moment?"

Interesting you should ask.

As WAMU's audience producer, I spend a lot of my day online and I noticed an increasing number of conversations about making your own hand sanitizer. Then another WAMU staff member mentioned the idea to me.

As it turns out, the internet is full of DIY hand sanitizer recipes, and the World Health Organization actually has two recipes of its very own.

So I decided to give it a try. A quick heads up: if you're going to make your own hand sanitizer, CDC guidelines state the sanitizer should be at least 60 percent alcohol. The recipe we used got close to that 60 percent but would require more alcohol to meet that recommendation.

Pretty much every recipe I read, including one of the WHO's, calls for isopropyl alcohol of at least 70%. I used that along with hydrogen peroxide — a common first aid antiseptic — and aloe vera.

Some DIYers across the internet also suggest adding an essential oil such as tea tree oil. Some are reported to have antibacterial properties, but the alcohol in the hand sanitizer is really what kills many potentially-harmful bacteria.

I used 2/3 cup of alcohol, 2 tablespoons of hydrogen peroxide and 1/3 cup of liquid aloe vera. This created a liquid solution that smelled strongly of its main ingredient (as you might expect), like most hand sanitizers I've previously purchased.

You'll notice I'm not using actual measuring cups. I wasn't able to find any sitting around WAMU HQ, but as an experienced baker, I eyeballed it as best I could.

For a gel-based hand sanitizer, you can use an aloe vera gel. But I used liquid aloe vera because that's what we could find.

Many stores in our vicinity were sold out of these items, but some of my colleagues were able to locate them.

After combining the three ingredients, I poured the mixture into a small spray bottle. I could easily take it with me on the go. But between my frequent hand-washing and the high alcohol content of this sanitizer, I noticed my hands felt dry. I would suggest moisturizing your hands to prevent any uncomfortable cracking.

So how well does it work on killing germs — or fighting coronavirus?

I'm not a scientist or a doctor, so I can't be sure. And again, health professionals continue to recommend hand-washing as the best method for preventing the spread of coronavirus.

But I could see myself using this in a pinch when I'm not able to make it to a sink and just feel icky.

As we continue to explore the impact of coronavirus in our area, we want you to be part of the reporting process — so if you've tried making your own hand sanitizer, or if you have questions about the virus and what it means for our region, tweet us at @wamu885.

This story was updated on March 9 to reflect the CDC's recommendation that hand sanitizers be at least 60 percent alcohol and to state that WAMU's recipe experiment did not meet that recommendation.

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