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How to make your own hand sanitizer during coronavirus shortage

As coronavirus bears down on Michigan, hand sanitizer is in short supply. 

After news of 16 confirmed coronavirus cases in Michigan prompted prolonged school closures, canceled public events and work-from-home orders for many workers, shoppers began emptying store shelves of sanitary and medical supplies in hopes of protecting themselves against a more widespread outbreak.

Some people have even set up side gigs buying up store stock and reselling it at a markup. Attorney General Dana Nessel has threatened to “bring the hammer down” on those caught price-gouging.

If you can’t find sanitizer on the shelves and don’t want to overpay on the black market, you might want to consider making your own. The World Health Organization recommends a recipe containing nine parts 99 percent isopropyl alcohol (also known as rubbing alcohol), a bit of hydrogen peroxide and a moisturizing agent, such as glycerol or aloe vera gel, though it appears to be written for Nobel laureates rather than mortals.

You can concoct your own recipe from aloe vera and 99 percent rubbing alcohol (or seek inspiration from a host of recipes posted online) so long as the mixture is made of at least 60 percent alcohol. Any less, and it won’t be an effective germ-killer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

But note it’s important to get the concentration right or your sanitizer may not be effective or will be too harsh on your skin, which is why several health organizations urge people to avoid DIY concoctions. 

Sanitizer is no substitute for hand washing. The best way to keep germs including coronavirus off your hands is to wash for at least 20 seconds with soap and water.

If you insist, John Protaciewicz, chair of Case Western Reserve University’s Chemistry Department, recommends a ratio of rubbing alcohol to aloe vera as 2/3 cup to 1/3 cup, which could work out to about 62 percent alcohol, just above CDC guidelines.

Stir the ingredients to combine them, then pour the mixture into a clean plastic bottle or soap dispenser. When using the mixture, rub it on the surfaces of both hands until your hands are dry.

But also note: Sanitizer is no substitute for hand washing. The best way to keep germs including coronavirus off your hands is to wash for at least 20 seconds with soap and water.

Sandro Cinti, professor of infectious diseases at the University of Michigan, agreed Friday in a Facebook Q&A that getting 60 percent or more of alcohol is critical. 

"There are a lot of naturopathic things coming out. People saying I’ve got this olive oil and thyme and that should do it. It won’t. Those things don’t work. There’s no evidence they work, and all they will do is give you a false sense of security that you’re protecting yourself. So I know that it’s difficult to get hand sanitizing material out there. People will be trying to make this stuff at home. I think that’s probably not something we should do on a wide basis, but if you do it, make sure it’s 60 percent alcohol at least.”

Here is additional guidance on how to prevent the spread of disease: 

  • Wash your hands often, especially after blowing your nose, coughing, sneezing, or engaging in other activities that may dirty your hands. Use soap and water and scrub for at least 20 seconds. 
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands. 
  • Avoid coming into contact with others who are sick.
  • If you are sick, stay home and avoid contact with others.

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