Don’t half-ass your hand sanitizer

Since the coronavirus outbreak, panicked herds of people have been going full post-apocalypse mode at the grocery stores, leaving nothing but empty shelves and ghostly aisles where shopping was once a happy experience. Several reports of stores having sold out of basic necessities like hand sanitizer have prompted a surge of tutorials on how to make your own hand sanitizer with readily-available household ingredients, with everybody adding their own little twist and tip to the recipe.

Here’s the thing :

The best way to clean your hands is still : soap and water.

But if you must use sanitizer, there is a right and a wrong way to make it. Let’s start with what not to do :

  • Don’t end up with any less than 60% alcohol as part of your total batch. In fact, to be safe, aim for 65-70% alcohol.
  • Don’t mix your alcohol with a gel so thick that you won’t be able to mix it evenly with the alcohol. You want the alcohol to coat your hands evenly.
  • Don’t eyeball your measurements.
  • Don’t use tea tree oil if you have a cat you’ll be spraying sanitizer around. They hate tea tree oil. And mint. And most strong scents.
  • Now that you’ve read all this, don’t be afraid of actually making it, it’s not hard at all!


Everybody’s medicine cabinet is stocked differently, so I’ll try to break down the basic thing we’re looking for, and explain some of the trade-offs that you might have to make if you aren’t able to get the right ingredients.


  • Alcohol that’s at least 70% strength
    • Common pharmacy varieties : “isopropyl alcohol”, “rubbing alcohol”, “ethanol”.
    • Fun fact : Rubbing alcohol that contains ethanol is ‘denatured,’ meaning that toxic substances are added to it to prevent people from drinking it.
    • Everclear that’s at least 151 proof (75.5%)
  • Water
    • Distilled water is best, if you don’t have that then use bottled water, or tap water boiled for 5 min, then cooled to about room temperature.
  • Glycerin
    • Glycerin (technically a humectant) is the best and cheapest ingredient you can use for this recipe (see substitutions below if you wan to use Aloe Vera gel).
    • Don’t skip this, or your hands will get cracked and bleed, attracting nasty infections.
  • A spray bottle
    • to put your sanitizer in


  • Some kind of fragrance
    • Typically essential oils, but you could use any fragrance oil, non-sweetened flavor oil, water-based vanilla or mint extract, or even spritz a bit of your favorite perfume (although please don’t do this out of consideration for people who will have to sit next to you on planes, public transit, the couch, etc).
    • Remember that tea tree oil is toxic to most cats, so skip that one for this DIY if you have one. Although tea tree oil has antibacterial properties, there will be enough alcohol in this recipe to kill most germs, and counting on tea tree oil alone to kill common bacteria isn’t a great idea anyway.
  • For any “optional” ingredient you don’t have, either add more alcohol, or skip it altogether.
  • A food scale will make your life easier, now and forever. If you have a Pyrex cup that measures volume out in ml, that would also work. Baby products or cold medicine also often come with a little plastic cup that allows you to measure out the medicine in mLs as well, so you could use that. You can still get away with cups, tablespoons, and teaspoons though.



  • Subbing Aloe Vera Gel for Glycerin :
    • Many popular recipes out there call for Aloe Vera gel. This is initially appealing to lots of folks, because they think they will end up with a nice thick sanitizing gel like the store-bought ones. In reality, unless you’re working with a 99% alcohol to begin with, your Aloe Vera gel will end up being too diluted in your end-recipe, and you will at best end up with a thin gel. Also, depending on the ingredients in your Aloe gel, it might break down when the gel-making carbomers react with such a high concentration of alcohol. This is why I recommend buying glycerin over aloe vera gel if you don’t already have one of those ingredients on hand. If you already have an aloe vera gel that’s sitting around, feel free to experiment and substituting any amount of (glycein + water in the recipes below).

Got your stuff?

Alright, let’s do this!!

  • If you have 70% or 99% alcohol on hand, scroll down for recipes.
  • The total pure alcohol content in these recipes is 65%, which gives you a margin of 5% error so you always end up with over the recommended 60% of pure alcohol in your recipe.
  • If you have some random alcohol % bottle on hand, you’re gonna have to do some easy math first to figure out the right amount. Don’t worry – I walk you through it! 😛


Ingredient Recipe 1 (mLs) Recipe 2 (TBsp) Recipe 3 (cups)
70% alcohol 94ml 6 TBsp + 1 tsp  
Glycerin 5ml 1 tsp  
Essential oils (optional) 1ml 1/4 tsp  
Total 100ml 6 TBsp +
2 1/4 tsp


Ingredient Recipe 1 (mLs) Recipe 2 (TBsp) Recipe 3 (cups)
99% alcohol 66ml 5 TBsp  
Glycerin 5ml 1 tsp  
Water 28ml 1 TBsp + 1 tsp  
Essential oils (optional) 1ml 1/4 tsp  
Total 100ml 6 TBsp +
2 1/4 tsp


  1. Pour alcohol into spray bottle
  2. Add Essential oils and glycerin
  3. Close bottle and give it a shake



  • Divide “alcohol proof” by 2 to get % of pure alcohol in the bottle
  • 65 / alcohol content % = total alcohol product needed

Alcohol Math

  • Decide how much sanitizer you’re looking to make. This will be your “batch size”. Let’s say you’re making 100ml total here.
  • Do the alcohol math : you need to target 65% “alcohol content” in your sanitizer, meaning that 65% of whatever is your sanitizer needs to be pure alcohol.
  • If you got “X proof” alcohol, take X and divide it by 2. That’s the “alcohol content”, or % of pure alcohol that’s in your bottle. Example : 151 proof Everclear is : 151/2 = 75.5% alcohol content.
    • If you got x% rubbing alcohol or ethanol, make sure the strength is 70% or higher.
  • The “alcohol content” of your total batch needs to be 65%, so to figure out the amount (%) of alcohol product you will need in your recipe, divide 65 by the alcohol content in your bottle.
    • Example : You have 151 proof Everclear, your alcohol content is 75.5%.
    • Amount of Everclear needed for your batch is =
    • 65/(75.5/100) = 65/0.755 = 86% or 86ml of alcohol product.


Ingredient Recipe 1 (makes 100 ml) Recipe 2 (custom batch size)
1. Custom-strength alcohol 65/(alcohol strength/100) 65/(alcohol strength/”batch size”)
2. Glycerin 5ml 5 / 100 * “batch size”
3. Essential oils (optional) 1ml 1 / 100 * “batch size”
4. Water top to 100ml “batch size” – (alcohol + glycerin + essential oil amounts)
Total 100ml “batch size”

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