April 2020 Update: Due to the shortage of conventional hand sanitizer, this DIY recipe is one of the most popular resources on the site right now. With that in mind, I’ve updated it to align with the formulation guidelines provided by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). I hope you find it helpful.
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.
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?