Estimated reading time: 11 minutes
In March of 2020, Amazon.com removed more than one million product listings from its website due to price gouging related to the Coronavirus or COVID19. Pictures from Seattle, Italy, and Hong Kong show bare store shelves as panic buying takes hold. One of the recent examples of hoarding and price gouging is in the category of hand sanitizers.
While both the CDC and the World Health Organization recommend hand washing as the primary way to prevent the spread of COVID19, they also recommend hand sanitizers when hand washing is not possible. It’s a good idea, and now everybody is buying them.
The other recommendation from the CDC and WHO is to disinfect surfaces that people frequently contact. As you would suspect, surface disinfectants are starting to disappear from store shelves as well.
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Both Hand Sanitizers and Surface Disinfectants are Easy to Make at Home
The primary active ingredient in any hand sanitizer is alcohol. The primary active ingredient in most surface disinfectants is bleach. There’s also a traditional and natural ingredient that has been used for decades to disinfect, and that’s vinegar.
We’re going to cover the basic tools and supplies you need to make your own hand sanitizers and surface disinfectants. Most of these supplies can be purchased at the dollar store or any grocery or drug store, and because most people aren’t mixing their own sanitizers and disinfectants, the prices have remained stable and they’re still on the shelves…at least for now.
Sanitation and Disinfectant 101
According to Dr. Charles Gerba, a professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of Arizona, COVID19 is a lipid-containing virus which means it can easily be killed with the active ingredients in hand sanitizers and surface disinfectants (alcohol or bleach).
However, whenever you disinfect a surface, you typically use a paper towel to wipe the surface (recommended) but live viruses or germs can adhere to the paper towel. Make sure you discard any paper towel you use to disinfect and never use a cloth rag or washcloth. Re-use of a contaminated fabric will spread the germs.
Use a new paper towel as you move from surface to surface while you wipe up the disinfectant. That may be a good reason to stock up on paper towels, and the cheapest brand will work. Your homemade disinfectant is killing the germs, not the paper towels.
You should also let any surface disinfectant sit for a while on any surface. Bleach needs a little time to kill germs, although if you used a liberal amount, you can smear it around for 5 to 10 seconds and get a good result.
Hand sanitizers should be rubbed on the hands until the sanitizer has evaporated and the hands are dry. This can take up to 20 seconds.
Home Hot Spots
In addition to your hands, certain areas in the home are hot spots for the spread of germs. Here’s the basic list, and some may surprise you. The degree to which you sanitize anything is up to you. If you or someone in your home actually develops a case of COVID19, you may want to take this up a notch.
The rule is simple: The more people handle something, the more likely it will pick up germs.
- Bathroom countertops, sinks and faucets, toilet seats and handles, cabinet and drawer handles, commonly used bottles like shampoo, shaving cream, toothpaste tubes, etc.
- Kitchen countertops, sinks, and faucets, cabinet and drawer handles, refrigerator handles, commonly used bottles like dish soap, frequently used condiments and spices like salt and pepper shakers, mustard and ketchup.
- The tops of chairs that are often used to pull the chair out.
- TV remotes and other electronic surfaces like shared keyboards, mouse devices, and printers. (TV remotes were found to be the #1 cause of germ spread in hospitals.)
- Your car. Door handles, radio, and other dashboard knobs, the steering wheel, seat belt buckles, trunk handles.
- Look around and think about other things that anyone frequently touches or uses and consider adding it to the list.
Don’t Overdo It
The standard recommendation is to sanitize surfaces once or twice a day. According to the CDC, frequent surface sanitation can actually spread germs more than kill them, especially if you’re not disposing of paper towels in a timely manner.
And in an ironic twist, how many of us studiously sanitize everything in the house and forget to sanitize the handle on the plastic sanitizer bottle?
Given the frequency of contact that our hands have with potentially contaminated surfaces in public places, there is no limit to how often you should wash or sanitize your hands. A common recommendation is to wash or sanitize your hands after any contact with surfaces on:
- Public transportation.
- Shopping carts in stores.
- Elevators and stair banisters in public buildings.
- Any other location that requires you to contact a surface shared by the public for any reason.
What’s Up with the 20-Second Hand Washing Rule?
According to the CDC and WHO, the primary recommendation for handwashing is to wash your hands for 20 seconds. Why 20 seconds? It’s because a significant part of handwashing is about floating germs off of the skin surface on your hands.
Soaps are a surfactant. A surfactant lifts particulate matter (dirt/stains/germs) and when rinsed underwater the particulate matter is rinsed away including the germs. It’s a surprise to many, but soap on its own is not a powerful disinfectant.
What makes soap work is its ability to lift and suspend the germs from the skin and allowing the water to rinse them down the drain. What’s been proven is that it takes at least 20 seconds to dislodge all germs from the skin using the surfactant properties of soap. Result: the 20-second rule.
DIY Success Factors with Hand Sanitizers and Disinfectants
The ingredients for both hand sanitizers and disinfectants are common household items like rubbing alcohol, bleach, vinegar, and water. The only rule for handling them is common sense.
Precision measurements are also important when combining ingredients to get the proper proportions for effective germ-killing properties. And for the record, don’t even think about drinking rubbing alcohol. It’s highly toxic and can kill you.
How to Make Hand Sanitizer
This is a two-step process. You’re measuring 91% rubbing alcohol with aloe vera gel; mixing them together and funneling them into pump bottles or small, portable containers.
- Large mixing bowl
- Whisk or mixing spoon
- Measuring cups
- Empty pump bottles or small containers (You can either buy them or reuse empty pump bottles you have around the house)
- 2/3 cup of 91% rubbing alcohol
- 1/3 cup of Aloe Vera Gel
- Whisk the alcohol and aloe vera gel together in your mixing bowl until well blended.
- Funnel into your pump bottle or small container.
- In a pinch, you can funnel the alcohol and aloe vera gel directly into the bottle and shake it vigorously to combine.
How to Make a Bleach-based Surface Disinfectant
This is another simple process. Once again you only have to measure two ingredients and funnel them into a spray bottle. Make sure you label the bottle with a permanent ink marker.
- Measuring cups
- Empty spray bottles (You can either buy them at the store or use empty spray bottles around the house)
- Chlorine bleach
- Combine one-part bleach to 9 parts water. For example, 1 cup of bleach and 9 cups of water.
- You can do this directly in the bottle you are going to use, but you’ll need to know the total ounces the bottle can hold so you measure the proper 1:10 proportions.
- The easiest way is to add the measured bleach to measured water in the water bottle and gently shake to make a bigger batch.
- You then funnel the bleach disinfectant into a spray bottle and mark the bottle as chlorine bleach disinfectant with a permanent marker.
How to Make a Vinegar-based Surface Disinfectant
The go-to cleaner of every pioneer. Don’t leave the cabin without it. The simplest way to make this is to simply use vinegar in a spray bottle. No dilution necessary. Many recipes call for a 50/50 solution of water and vinegar.
The only important thing to keep in mind is that the vinegar should have a 5% acidity. The acid in vinegar is acetic acid and it’s the active ingredient that kills germs. Some store brands only have a 4% acidity. That’s why it’s cheaper and it’s not as effective at germ-killing for that reason.
- Measuring cups
- Empty spray bottle
- White vinegar (5% acetic acid stated on the label)
- Either funnel the white vinegar directly into the spray bottle or mix with an equal measure of water.
- Label the bottle as a vinegar-based disinfectant. This is important because it can be used on countertops safely while you are preparing food in the kitchen. You should not allow exposed food in the kitchen to get any overspray from a bleach-based disinfectant.
Does Homemade Apple Cider Vinegar Work as a Disinfectant?
Yes, but it’s typically not recommended because it can stain porous surfaces with repeated use. It’s also hard to assess the acidity of homemade vinegar. The good news is that many homemade vinegars have a higher percentage of acetic acid than 5%.
The better news is you’ll always have it on hand, assuming you have an apple tree or two. It’s also true that the first step in making apple cider vinegar is to ferment the cider into hard cider which has a percentage of alcohol, although not near as close as the 91% in high percentage rubbing alcohol.
On a side note, unlike rubbing alcohol, you actually can drink hard cider safely. In moderation of course.
Hydrogen Peroxide as a Surface Disinfectant?
Yup. That works too. The standard disinfectant solution recommended is hydrogen peroxide and water mixed in a 50/50 ratio. It’s also inexpensive.
Storage and Shelf-Life
Store your homemade disinfectants and hand sanitizers wherever you usually store them. As far as shelf life, they’ll probably last as long as the plastic bottles they’re stored in.
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