DIY Hand Sanitizer with Aloe Vera and Ethanol

From toilet paper and face masks to hand sanitizers, sprays, and wipes, the coronavirus pandemic has resulted in a number of shortages in the United States. Instead of relying on merchant backorders or exorbitantly priced stockpiles, many people are turning toward do-it-yourself (DIY) strategies, especially when it comes to hand hygiene.

Coronavirus-fighting recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other organizations overwhelmingly urge Americans to wash their hands frequently and consistently — and experts agree that soap and water is the most effective cleanser. If soap and water are not available (for example, when you are running an essential errand for food or prescription medicines), using a hand sanitizer containing at least 60 percent alcohol is an acceptable alternative, according to the CDC.

But potency isn’t the only thing to consider when picking a hand sanitizer. “Keep in mind that there are a lot of variables that can affect if your sanitizer will kill pathogens on your hands,” says Daniel Parker, MD, an assistant professor of population and disease prevention at the University of California in Irvine. Other important considerations include additional ingredients, best-use practices, and storage, all of which carry risks to the skin and your home.

What Essential Ingredients Will I Need?

The primary component in DIY hand sanitizers is alcohol, most commonly either:

  • Isopropyl alcohol (known as “rubbing alcohol”), which is readily available at grocery or drugstores and is used to kill bacteria, fungi, and viruses
  • Ethanol (commonly called ethyl or grain alcohol), which may be most effective ( and is also safe when ingested), according to a study published April 2018 in the Journal of Hospital Infection

Isopropyl alcohol is available in concentrations ranging from 40 percent to 91 percent. Experts say to look for a product that is greater than 70 percent (if it’s not strong enough, it won’t inactivate viruses). But keep in mind that the higher the concentration, the greater the toxicity. Definitely avoid concentrations of 99 percent or more, which are commonly used in commercial and industrial settings.

Ethanol may be preferable to isopropyl alcohol, but don’t rely on the bottle of vodka or gin on your liquor shelf, says Carl Fichtenbaum, MD, a professor of clinical medicine at the University of Cincinnati School of Medicine. He explains that these liquors are mostly 80 or 90 proof, which does not yield the minimum 60 percent alcohol concentration recommended by the CDC. Instead, look for grain alcohol (commonly bottled at 151 or 191 proof), which provides a pathogen-killing alcohol concentration of 75.5 percent to 92.4 percent.

DIY Hand Sanitizer Recipe and Safety

The optimal DIY hand sanitizer recipe calls for two parts alcohol, one part aloe vera gel.

  • Materials
    • 1 mixing bowl, 1 mixing utensil or whisk, a clean funnel, 1 washed and dried bottle with a resealable lid or hand pump, a clean work area.
  • Ingredients
    • ⅔ cup ethanol or 91 percent isopropyl alcohol
    • ⅓ cup aloe vera gel
    • A few drops of essential oils (optional)
  • Note that if your isopropyl alcohol is less than 91 percent, you can reduce the amount of aloe vera.


  1. Thoroughly clean the work surface with diluted bleach (⅓ cup bleach per gallon of water) and wipe dry.
  2. Pour ingredients into the bowl and carefully combine to gel consistency.
  3. Transfer sanitizer to the clean bottle (ideally using the funnel). The World Health Organization recommends that the concoction be allowed to cure for 72 hours to get rid of any bacteria that might have been introduced during preparation.

Safety is key, especially when it comes to handling isopropyl alcohol, says John Protasiewicz, PhD, a professor of chemistry at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. Dr. Protasiewicz warns against using isopropyl alcohol without protective clothing, and advises that the work area be well-ventilated. Not only is isopropyl readily absorbed by the skin, but if swallowed or inhaled accidentally, it can be extremely toxic, he says, adding that it’s also highly flammable and must be stored far away from ignition sources (heat, sparks, and open flames). The same advice applies to ethanol.

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