Certain microbes in dirt make us healthier, smarter, and even happier, and kids actually need exposure to germs in order to train the immune system. (1) That’s why I love this quote . . .
First child eats dirt – parent calls the doctor. Second child eats dirt. Parent cleans out mouth. Third child eats dirt. Parent wonders if she really needs to feed him lunch.” – Unknown
But y’all, even I have my limits, and my kids have FOUND. THEM. ALL.
When hand washing is not an option – whether that’s because we’re camping or in an airplane with a bathroom waiting area that looks like a conga line – I use this homemade hand sanitizer.
It’s inspired by a recipe found in Treatment Alternatives For Children, which was written by holistic pediatrician Lawrence Rosen, MD. However, I substituted the suggested essential oils with ones from this child-safe list based on recommendations from Essential Oil Safety, which was published after Dr. Rosen’s book was released. The oils I chose have similar therapeutic actions, but are ones I feel more comfortable using with children.
CDC Guidelines for Homemade Hand Sanitizer
According to the CDC’s guidelines, homemade hand sanitizer must contain at least 60 percent alcohol by volume. Although it does not kill every pathogen – the superbug C. diff, for example – hand sanitizer is considered effective against the current virus that is going around. That’s because the active ingredient – alcohol – disrupts the protective shell (envelope glycoprotein) that the virus needs to survive.
Alcohol that is sold in grocery stores and online comes in varying concentrations. For example, some is diluted so that it is 70 percent alcohol and 30% water, while others are 91 or 99 percent alcohol.
Because alcohol is very drying to hands, it needs to be mixed with an emollient such as aloe vera gel or glycerin. The important thing is to make sure that the final product is at least 60 percent alcohol, so the recipe needs to be adjusted based on the concentration of alcohol you are using. I’ve included recipe recommendations for the following commonly available concentrations:
- 70% isopropyl rubbing alcohol (can substitute Everclear 151 proof)
- 91% isopropyl rubbing alcohol (can substitute Everclear 189 or 190 proof)
- 99% isopropyl alcohol
About The Optional Essential Oils In This Recipe
If you decide to use essential oils in your homemade hand sanitizer, I recommend choosing one or more of the ones below. They’re all safe for kids over two.
- tea tree essential oil
- fir needle essential oil
- marjoram essential oil
- cinnamon leaf essential oil (not cinnamon bark)
- sweet orange essential oil
- grapefruit essential oil
- lemon essential oil
- lavender essential oil
Also, ifyou only have (or want to purchase) a couple of these oils, that’s okay! Tea tree oil and lavender oil would be my choice – just make sure you use a max of 15 drops total. One important thing to note is that cinnamon leaf essential oil can be irritating if used in concentrations above 0.6%, so it should be limited to 9 drops per batch.
Of course, you can also skip them altogether. Although certain essential oils have been clinically shown to have antimicrobial properties, alcohol is considered the primary active ingredient in this recipe.
Tips for Making Homemade Sanitizer
- Clean your working surface and wash your hands before starting.
- Sanitize your spray bottles and equipment. To clean your bottles, you can pour a little rubbing alcohol into them, put the lid on and shake until the whole inside of the bottle is wet. Next, remove the lid and let the bottles air dry. Clean any equipment you plan to use with hot, soapy water.
- Label your containers. I use a chalk marker to write the date on the bottom of my bottles so that I can keep track of when they need to be replaced.
How To Use Hand Sanitizer (The Right Way)
There are a couple of important things to know about applying hand sanitizer. First, it’s all about contact time – you need to rub it into your skin for 30-60 seconds or until your hands are dry. Also, if your hands are oily or grimy, hand sanitizer is not likely to be effective. Hand soap is your best bet in that case.
With that in mind, here’s how to apply hand sanitizer the right way:
- Spray enough hand sanitizer in your palm to completely cover both hands.
- Rub your palms together, then rub the back of each hand with the palm of your other hand.
- Next, rub the sanitizer on the tips of your fingers and on the underside of your fingernails.
Keep rubbing until 30-60 seconds have passed or your hands are completely dry.
Why avoid most store-bought hand sanitizers?
Although triclosan is still used in some antibacterial products, it’s no longer approved for use in commercial hand sanitizers due to potential health effects. That’s a big step in the right direction.
Unfortunately, many products still include ingredients such as benzalkonium chloride, which is considered a moderate hazard by the Environmental Working Group (EWG). They also often contain fragrances that the EWG ranks as moderate to high hazard.
The Best Options To Buy If You Don’t Want To DIY
Fortunately, there are some good options out there. Here are a few of my favorites:
Dr. Bronner’s Lavender Hand Sanitizer – This is one of my favorites because it incorporates just four simple ingredients: organic alcohol, water, lavender, and glycerin. Lavender is safe for kids of all ages which makes this one my top choice for families with younger children.
EO Organic Hand Sanitizer (French Lavender) – Like Dr. Bronner’s, this one is made from just a handful of ingredients including alcohol derived from sugarcane, lavender essential oil, echinacea leaf extract, and glycerin.
Wellnesse Moisturizing Hand Sanitizer With Eucalyptus & Mint – I like this one because it comes in glass storage bottles that are perfect for DIY room spray and other recipes once the sanitizer is used up. Although pricier per ounce, a little goes a long way and it doestn’ smell like typical hand sanitizer. Because it uses eucalyptus and peppermint essential oils I recommend it for use with older children but prefer one of the other two options for small children. (More on using essential oils with kids here.)
Storing Your Hand Sanitizer
The consistency of this hand sanitizer will vary depending on the concentration of alcohol and aloe vera gel you use.
If you’re using 70% rubbing alcohol, it will likely be very runny and work best in spray bottles. I poured mine into old essential oil bottles with special spray tops designed to fit on 10, 15, and 30 ml essential oil bottles. You can find the spray tops on Amazon, or you can find them at this store for a good price along with essential oil bottles and spray cap sets.
If you’re using 91-99% alcohol your sanitizer might be too thick to use as a spray. In that case, this squirt bottle is made with HDPE plastic, which is considered safe for use with essential oils.
Homemade Hand Cleansing Gel
- Spray bottle OR squirt bottle (see below for a recommendation) – I used old essential oil bottles with special spray tops designed to fit on 10, 15, and 30 ml essential oil bottles. You can find the spray tops on Amazon, or you can find them at this store for a good price along with essential oil bottles and spray cap sets.
- Silicone sleeve (optional) – I also bought a silicone essential oil sleeve with a carabiner hook to attach to my keychain so that I have my natural hand sanitizer with me for shopping trips. (I'm not making any right now, but I know I will be in the future.) You can find them on Amazon, or you can buy the exact one pictured here.
- mixing bowl
- Glass measuring cup
- 6 tbsp 70% isopropyl alcohol (can substitute Everclear 151 proof) (This is a 9:1 ratio. For recipes using 91% or 99% alcohol, please see the notes section below)
- 2 tsp aloe vera gel (Or vegetable glycerin. Because the moisturizing component of this recipe is relatively small, you can use vegetable glycerin in place of aloe vera if you’d like. It can leave a residue if used in higher concentrations like the other recipes, but it works in this one.)
- 9-18 drops essential oil (Optional – I use 3 drops each of tea tree, fir needle, cinnamon leaf, sweet orange, and lavender essential oil)
- Wash your hands and clean your equipment/ workspace.
- Add the alcohol and essential oils (if using) to a mixing bowl with a spout or large glass measuring cup.
- Add the aloe vera gel or glycerin and stir together until well combined. Pour your DIY hand sanitizer into your spray bottle (or bottles) and add a label (or labels).
91% Alcohol RecipeThis is a 2:1 ratio as recommended.
- 6 tablespoons of 91% isopropyl alcohol alcohol (can substitute Everclear 189 or 190 proof)
- 3 tablespoons aloe vera gel
- 10-20 drops essential oil
99% Alcohol RecipeThis is a 3:2 ratio as recommended.
- 3 tablespoons of 99% isopropyl alcohol
- 2 tablespoons aloe vera gel
- 7-15 drops essential oil
Hand Salve Recipe
Lots of hand washing and hand sanitizer applications can be very drying to skin. If your hands could use a little TLC right now, here’s a moisturizing hand salve recipe that’s super easy to make.
I’ve been applying it at night after I say goodnight to my littles, and once more at bedtime. I pop some light, stretchy winter gloves on on my hands to keep my sheets clean, and by morning my dry hands are soft again.
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1. Forbes Magazine. Is Playing In The Dirt Good for Kids’ Immune Systems?
Read My Comment Policy
… and the link to the DIY naturals one goes to the Katja Swift one.
Hi! It’s such a great idea to get away from all those soaps, and use some positive ingredients for cleaning hands. Thanks for your post!
In our house we use grapefruit seed extract (GSE) diluted with water, one drop per ounce of water. I keep spray bottles by the sinks and a small one in my purse.
Can you email me the recipes?
Hi there. Thanks so much for this great recipe!!! I enjoy all your posts for natural remedies. Have a blessed day. Love and greetings from South Africa.
Excited about this!!! 🙂
I have been using this hand sanitzer and absolutely LOVE it! My question is regarding the longevity of the final product. How long should it still be effective before I need to make a new batch?
Hi Starla, it depends on storage conditions (temperature, light, etc.) and the shelf life of the essential oils used.
Ok. I keep my oils and aloe vera gel stored in a dark cupboard on an inside wall in my house. My current batch was made just before Christmas. I carry my tube in my purse all the time, so it’s been approx. 3 months. It’s time to fly across country, so I wasn’t sure if I needed to make a new batch. I’m hoping I can get several months out of a batch. I never noticed if my oils are dated on the bottle. I never thought to research that. I love this natural option. I break out from commercial hand sanitizer. Thanks Heather
Great presentation – I hope many people read this and it begins to make a difference to a common but mistaken view on bacteria and our children!
I have been wondering about something. I ordered some Witch hazel extract from mountain rose herbs and it is based in 70% alcohol. I was somewhat surprised. Is this always the case? If so, one of the recipes that calls for Witch hazel is really alcohol based.
Some witch hazel extracts contain alcohol and some don’t. For this recipe I recommend one that does, with vegetable glycerin for additional moisturizing effect if you have it on hand.
Heather do you have an instagram with your procedures??
There is also white hazel without alcohol
Christine Decarolis, LMT
I think you need to double check what type of alcohol is being used. If I’m not mistaken, grain-based is okay, the other is a petroleum derivative and it is not okay.
Hi! I know this is an old post but what kjnd of alcohol is s petroleum derivative? Thanks!
Please stop buying pure aloe gel. Cancer patients like me undergoing radiation are suffering because people who don’t need the pure stuff are buying it to make hand sanitizer. Washing your hands with soap and water is more effective anyway.
this is so helpful! I’ve always been paying attention to my food, makign sure I eat food that’s real and natural and whole, but only recently have learnt how important it is to keep the products that we use on our body real and natural too as our skin absorbs all these toxins too! makes no sense to only pay attention to one and neglecting the other! have now started using raw honey as a cleanser, but was thinking of switchign out my handsoap, this is a great article, thanks x
I am not qualified to give medical advice, but I like this comment from Emily on my post about making homemade bug spray (which also uses essential oils):
“Peppermint is used with caution for nursing moms because it is thought to decrease milk supply., but clinically I haven’t really seen this to be true. Personally, I drank tons of catnip tea after my second was born. It helped to keep be emotionally grounded post partum (read: not yell at my husband), and my baby was a perfect angel with no health issue. My point is that warning labels for herbs are usually extremely conservative, especially when the application is topical. They shouldn’t be ignored, but If I were pregnant or nursing and in a swarm of mozzies, I wouldn’t hesitate to dump a bottle of the first recipe all over myself – but that’s just me. ;)”
We use Thieves at our house. LOVE. It. Smells divinely of cinnamon!
Great to hear! I just ordered thieves EO for the first time! Can’t wait. (:
Christine Decarolis, LMT
I am a massage therapist. I use hand sanitizer in my practice because I am allergic to soap. After reading several articles that have come out about commercial santizers, I decide to switch to an all natural formula. This post has been a great help. Thanks.
I shared your post with a friend and she just e-mailed me and told me that she read somwhere that boys should stay away from lavendar. I wrote her back and asked her where the article was from that she read and why but she hasn’t written me back. Have you heard this before and if so, why would just boys need to stay away from it???
Robert Tisserand says lavender is not estrogenic. More here: https://mommypotamus.com/does-lavender-oil-cause-estrogen-imbalance/ Hope that helps!
I just made your hand sanitizer recipe from Katja Swift which is a recipe which includes water in a spray bottle and then put 10-20 drops of Rosemary and Lavender. I filled about 6 spray bottles with this recipe and have been using it for hand sanitizer (for myself and the kids), sprayed down doorknobs, light switches, counter tops, bathroom sinks, etc, and used it for a “lysol” spray for the air. If Lavender is bad for young boys (I have 3) because it mimics estrogen in the body should I stop using these spray bottles and the hand sanitizer I made for them using this recipe and go with a different recipe or is it just a risk I should take since I already spent the money on the lavender oil and spray bottles and just hope they don’t get big boobs! ha ha. Did you use this recipe for Micah as a hand sanitizer?
Thank you for this article…trying to come up with the winning combination that will kill the bad bugs but not the good ones or upset the pH balance! Do you know of any research about GSE? Does it kill the good guys too? After my daughter had a bout with Salmonella, I have been much more cautious about making sure her hands are clean. They don’t have a hand washing option at school and every day they are given a squirt of hand sanitizer at snack and at lunch! Ugg!! Going to try one of these natural one
Hi Lara, I personally avoid GSE for the reasons listed in this article http://chemicaloftheday.squarespace.com/most-controversial/2010/1/27/the-truth-about-grapefruit-seed-extract.html
Thanks for that link! I had NO IDEA of the dangers of GFSE!! I’ve only ever used it on my husbands athelete’s foot, never internally. Will not be using anymore!
Im currently still nursing (like crazy it seems) my 18 month old. Is it safe to use these DIY antibacterial recipes? I tend to not think so much anymore about avoiding essential oils now that shes older but maybe I should rethink this? My research on the topic is coming up spotty… Any personal thoughts? Our music class has a lot of mouths on instruments and would love to pack this in my bag. Thank you
I have been using EOs for a while now and my little one is now 18 months. Just dilute well and see how that works for you. You can contact a local aromatherapist (licensed) because most people do not know the safety precautions of essential oils.
Please be careful in using tea tree oil around dogs, cats, rabbits and other pets because it can be toxic to them!! Same with witch hazel rhat is made with isopropyl alcohol.
This stuff is awesome. I use it on my kids, when we go out in public.
I use tea tree oil on my dogs neck line and back recommended by a ND vet to prevent for ticks and fleas . He has never had any. Ticks are strong where I live in the summer. Many others have started it and they say its been years where there dogs are finally tick free 🙂
Rosemary geranium is what I heard works against fleas and ticks, and is not a problem with toxicity around pets.
Yes! Cats can’t be around tea tree oil at all, they will suffer kidney failure, dogs are ok as long as it’s properly diluted though.
Great info – thanks!! FYI I just checked my Humphrey’s Witch Hazel and it is only 14% alcohol. The generic brand at my local drugstore is also 14%.
Is this safe for 1 year old baby? Is it safe to use alcohol on babies?
I just wanted to share with everyone that, when researching (quite a bit), I discovered that there are two brands of colloidal silver that are considered to be the top two “true colloidal silvers” when compared with many of the other well-known, popular brands. They are Mesosilver and Utopia. You can find both companies online entering the brand names in your search box. Utopia is a little less expensive and they do have specials. I prefer Utopia brand because of the price. You can buy larger-sized bottles from either company, and each site has quite a bit of educational information about colloidal silver. Mesosilver has gel form available, which is great for wounds and direct application to the skin. However, the liquid can just as easily be sprayed on or mixed with a little coconut oil to make it a little more “gel-like.” By the way, whether you want to use colloidal silver in the making of your own hand sanitizer, or whether you want to drink it for the cold or flu, or use it to cure eye or ear infections, or for a bladder infection (so many uses – its amazing stuff!) you WANT it to be in nanoparticles so it will be bio-available. I also learned that “ionic/ionized” silver is what you want more for topical/skin application and the regular colloidal silver is best for ingesting or for ears, eyes, etc….either way, in either version, it is amazingly effective and safe. Hope this information helps! Knowledge is power!
All the hype about lavender adversely affecting boys was disproven. I have all boys at my house and we use lavender all the time. Robert Tisserand, a well known expert on essential oils, explains more here: http://roberttisserand.com/2013/02/lavender-oil-is-not-estrogenic/.
Hope that helps!
Your link to the hand sanitizer does not work, please fix.
Employees at your facility who are allergic to hand sanitizer, what are they allowed to use instead, if need be?
Wow.. Love your writing style! So descriptive yet so informal. I’m a fan!
I want to try the recipe on the first link, but I wonder if I could use with hazel instead of water. As I use which hazel in other products, I went on quite a journey to find 100% witch hazel with zero alcohol (I haven’t used it yet, but I’ll try it and reveal the name once I OK it).
It’s no secret the oil and water doesn’t mix. And it doesn’t mix perfectly with witch hazel either, but better than with water. And I do believe that I read somewhere that witch hazel increases the longevity.
awsome site really loving the recipes
hey i want to sign up
Thanks for this! I ended up putting in small spray bottles with the addition of a little coconut carrier oil.
what do you think about baking soda? From what I understand you can use it from brushing your teeth to the Garden. I’m beginning to wonder if it will replace everything except those beautiful essential oils.
I once thought about making my own hand sanitizer but I never did. Reading this makes me want to do it. I just wonder about the shelf life since it doesn’t have have any preservative nor alcohol. Or is the EOs amount good enough to preserve it? And for how long? As another person commented that since there is no alcohol in there it is not actually a hand sanitizer (the other recipes I’ve read included it or vodka instead ?), how can we know for sure it will actually clean the hands?
Is there an alternative to using aloe vera? I am allergic to aloe…
You could use the version using witch hazel extract mentioned in the recipe notes.
Hi. Love your blog! Could you please fix the link to the aloe you use? I recently read on EWG Skindeep that aloe is a possible carcinogen. What are your thoughts/research on that? Thank you!!
Ahhh, thanks for letting me know it was broken! Here is the brand I have been using, but it looks like that listing disappeared because they reformulated. This brand is actually more similar in ingredients than the reformulated one above. As for the possible carcinogen aspect, from what I’ve read it seems that only applies to taking massive amounts of non-decolorized aloe extracts internally. 🙂
I love the Lakewood Organic Aloe Gel in a 32 Oz glass jar. Whole Foods carries over with all their juices. Once I open, I freeze the rest in ice cube trays and take out what I need. Lasts forever in freezer!
Why not just use witch hazel extract, made with alcohol of course? I’m sure the essential oils smell better but witch hazel and alcohol already do a good job of killing most bacteria and germs don’t they? Thanks for any input!
Joanne Van't Hoff
Would thieves oil be alright to add?
Hi, I must be missing something in the recipe posted for hand sanitizer…wouldn’t a 2:1 ratio call for 3TBSP aloe vera gel?
Also, could fresh aloe from a plant be substituted for the gel in the recipe? If so, how long can the sanitizer be stored for peak effectiveness?
91% Alcohol Recipe
This is a 2:1 ratio as recommended.
6 tablespoons of 91% isopropyl alcohol alcohol (can substitute Everclear 189 or 190 proof)
1 tablespoon plus 1.5 teaspoons aloe vera gel
10-20 drops essential oil
Would it be possible to make this as a gel? Thank you.
Sorry, I just noticed it’s called a gel! I assumed it was liquid as it’s in a spray.
I have tried making hand sanitizer twice, but the gel and the 99% alcohol don’t thicken. I tried aloe vera gel from home grown aloes, and I also tried a store bought aloe vera gel (as a last resort) but neither versions thickened.
I’m wondering if the aloe gel in the first recipe can be subbed with the glycerine? Or is there a natural thickener I could use for the home grow aloe vera gel? (Bearing in mind that I live in a small town with only one small supermarket and most ingredients for this kind of thing are hard to come by, so thinking if there’s something I may have in the pantry that might work..)
Hi Tara, in order for the sanitizer to have the alcohol percentage that is recommended it needs to have more alcohol than aloe. As a result, it is a liquid rather than a gel. Commercially produced hand sanitizers often contain thickening agents to make them more gel-like, but I am not aware of any options for creating the same effect in a DIY recipe. Thickeners such as flaxseed, which can be used to make hair gel and such, would make the sanitizer more vulnerable to microbial contamination, which is obviously not what we want. I put mine in small spray bottles to apply. Hope that helps!
Thanks for replying. I’ve watched videos of people making it with just the two ingredients and it has thickened up nicely, so thought that I was doing something wrong.
I read that xanthan gum can be used but can’t get my hands on any yet.
I may try mine in a spray bottle and see how it goes, but I’m worried it will be very drying. I do make a cream that is a great moisturiser though, so that would help I guess.
Hello! I tried the recipe for homemade hand sanitizer using 99% alcohol and pure aloe vera gel. They never combined. In fact, I had to pull the fibers it made from the whisk I used to try to blend them together. Do you have any suggestions as to how to make this work?
Hi Sara, maybe try blending it with an immersion blender or regular blender. I’m working with a different alcohol concentration because it’s what I have on hand, but I wanted to include that option because it came up in my research on formulation guidelines. Please let me know if the blending helps and I’ll update the recipe.
I’ll give that a try. Thank you!
Just made my first batch with 70% alcohol and had the same problem with the fibers forming when I added the aloe to the alcohol. Will try to blend next time. TY
I can’t understand why alcohol is recommended when the essential oils have ‘superbug’ killing properties?
Hi there. This is really a great recipe! Can you please e-mail this post to me???
I’m not sure which recipe you are talking about – the one in the recipe box has print option. If you’re talking about the one in the comment section, I suggest copying/pasting it into an email if that is your preferred method for filing it away.
I feel like the recipe prior to Covid was different….if so, can you please send me the recip to the pre-covid sanitizer recipe.
Yes, the article has been updated. The original recipe was:
3 tbsp aloe vera gel
2 tbsp vodka (or rubbing alcohol)
3 drops tea tree essential oil
3 drops fir needle essential oil (or marjoram essential oil)
3 drops cinnamon leaf essential oil (not cinnamon bark)
3 drops sweet orange essential oil (or grapefruit or lemon essential oil)
3 drops lavender essential oil