Is It Wise To Make Hand Sanitizer With Aloe Vera?
With everything going on in the world at the moment, and the prospect of a second wave of Covid-19 looking like it will ravage Europe shortly (and the US hasn’t even finished its first wave yet!) we can probably expect a few problems again shortly when it comes to supply of toilet rolls, hand gels and other things. The various product recalls of hand sanitizers that contain methanol also doesn’t help the global supply chain to keep up with demand.
So it’s no surprise then that people are looking for ways to protect themselves from these disruptions and looking at how to make hand sanitizer with Aloe Vera. The World Health Organization gives a good recipe, though it needs a little bit of modification for the inclusion of Aloe Vera. We’re going to look at whether making hand sanitizer with Aloe Vera is wise or whether it should be avoided.
Aloe Vera Properties
The Aloe Vera plant has been used for centuries as a natural antiseptic, healing plant. It’s well documented that Aloe Vera promotes healing through anti-inflammatory actions and has a positive effect particularly on skin burns.
Aloe Vera has also been studied and found to “prevent skin ulcers and to treat burn wounds, postoperative wounds, cracked nipples, genital herpes, psoriasis, and chronic wounds including pressure ulcers“
For the purposes of hand sanitizing, particularly in the context of Covid-19 prevention it would be Aloe Vera’s antiviral activities that interest us. Studies have shown that Aloe Vera does possess anti-viral properties – for example against Herpes Simplex. However, Herpes Simplex is quite different to the Sars-CoV-2 virus and I have been unable to find any scientific study involving the use of Aloe Vera to sanitize against it. That doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t work – but there’s no evidence yet to support or deny it.
Does That Mean That Aloe Vera Is NOT Useful In Hand Sanitizer
Does the section above mean that it’s pointless to make hand sanitizer with Aloe Vera?
Well, no, not quite. The anti-inflammatory action and moisturizing action of Aloe Vera can potentially be very useful in our home made Aloe Vera hand sanitizer. But it’s not scientifically shown to add any sanitizing benefit. With that in mind, we can’t just cut open some Aloe Vera to rub on our hands and be safe from Covid-19 (or other nasties). We’ll need something that’s well known to kill off Coronaviruses. That something is Isopropyl Alcohol, or plain Ethanol. The latter is likely to be hard to get hold of for our purposes.
How To Make Hand Sanitizer With Aloe Vera
Why You Shouldn’t Make Hand Sanitizer With Aloe Vera
There’s a few reasons why you shouldn’t make your own hand sanitizer at all, with or without Aloe Vera;
- Washing hands with soap and water is still by far the best way to sanitize your hands. Soap destroys the lipid outer layer of the coronavirus and disrupts the spikey proteins the virus uses to fool the body into allowing it to enter cells. No keys for entry = no viable virus.
- Commercially produced hand sanitizer undergoes rigorous testing for quality. The concentration of alcohol present in the sanitizer is one of the most crucial elements in its ability to sanitize your hands – and at home you cannot accurately measure that.
- Potential for horrible, indeed harmful gases released into the atmosphere where the sanitizer is being made. If you must make your own, do it in a well ventilated area.
- Risk of fire or explosion. Isopropyl Alcohol does burn if exposed to a naked flame or heat source. Don’t smoke while you’re preparing hand sanitizer.
Why You Should Make Hand Sanitizer With Aloe Vera
If all of the above haven’t put you off – or you simply cannot get hold of commercial hand sanitizer because it’s all sold out through panic buying then you can consider making your own. The sanitizer you make is likely to be more effective that nothing at all.
The hand sanitizer produced by this article is based on the World Health Organization recipe. It should be noted that this recipe is intended for production by facilities in countries or locations that don’t have readily available commercial hand sanitizer products available. It should also be noted that it does not contain Aloe Vera but does contain Hydrogen Peroxide. For the purposes of making at home we do not recommend the use of hydrogen peroxide.
If you read the WHO documentation you’ll see that the use of hydrogen peroxide is to sterilize the sanitizer components against external bacteria from the equipment and is not part of the antiseptic qualities of the finished product. It’s likely that this is because the WHO document also provides very large quantities of the handrub which would be expected to last potentially for months. You’re only making small quantities and it doesn’t need to last.
You’ll also note that the WHO recipe calls for Glycerol. We are going to substitute the Glycerol for Aloe Vera. It’s Aloe Vera’s natural moisturizing and skin protecting properties we’re looking for here – which is what the Glycerol achieves in the WHO recipe.
Equipment You’ll Need To Make Your Own Hand Sanitizer
- Mixing container
- Plastic Mixing Spoon or sturdy whisk
- Measuring Jugs
- Paper towel and/or Cutting Boards
- Tea-spoon or Table Spoon
- Access to soap / dishwashing liquid
- Access to cooled boiled water
- Sealable, Reusable Dispensers
- Knife (such as a paring or vegetable knife)
- Aloe Vera plant(s)
- Isopropyl Alcohol
Steps To Make Hand Sanitizer With Aloe Vera
Wash ALL containers and equipment thoroughly
Because we’re not using the Hydrogen Peroxide prescribed by the WHO recipe we need to ensure that our utensils are completely clean and as sanitized as they can be. Given that soap and hot water kills bacteria, viruses and most fungal pathogens and we have access to good hot running water (which the majority of the locations the WHO recipe is designed for will not) we can clean our equipment without the need for the H2O2 – which is good because Hydrogen Peroxide is nasty stuff to play with.
Hot soapy water, clean all your equipment and preferably allow to air-dry. If your equipment is dishwasher safe you could sanitize it all with a good dishwasher cycle instead.
Wash Your Hands
Similarly to the above, you need to wash your own hands thoroughly before playing with any of the equipment or materials in the next steps. It’s worth washing your hands regularly throughout the process to avoid contaminating the preparation. Warm soap and water for at least 20 seconds will do. You can sing ‘Happy Washday to me’ to the tune of Happy Birthday while washing your hands. Two verses should see you about 20 seconds…
Prepare The Aloe Vera Gel
Allergy warning: The thick outer portion of the Aloe Vera Leaf contains Latex. If you’re allergic to latex do not perform this part yourself. The inner gel does not contain latex. If you’re allergic to latex you could wear nitrile or non-latex gloves to perform this step instead.
Using a sharp knife, cut off a number of the leaves from your Aloe Vera plant and lay them on some paper towel or clean cutting boards. Aloe Vera leaves sprout from the inside, so it’s best to cut the larger, outer leaves from the plant as the plant will the produce more on the inside to replace the cut ones. Don’t cut them too close to the soil as you don’t want to contaminate your knife with soil and you don’t want your Aloe Vera to rot due to the internal parts of the plant contacting the soil either.
Wash the knife in warm soapy water. Rinse the Aloe leaves under warm water to remove any soil and debris.
Using the cleaned knife, score down the long side of each leaf so that you can open it up and reveal the gel like substance inside. It’s this gel substance we want. Scoop the gel substance with a tea spoon into a measuring jug. Remove any pieces of the green outer skin that may have been scooped up with the gel if possible. You may need some tweezers or something similar for this.
Add The Appropriate Amount Of Isopropyl Alcohol
It’s widely accepted that alcohol based hand rubs are effective at removing hand borne microbial pathogens and that there’s minimal risk of the pathogens developing any resistance to them. But – to be effective the alcohol content must be at least 70% (some sources state 60%). Since our Isopropyl Alcohol is 99% alcohol we have some room to dilute it.
In order to make a 75% alcohol solution combined with our Aloe Vera gel, we need to look at some mathematics. 99% alcohol is very nearly 100% alcohol, so for ease of mathematics this is what we’ll use. We want an alcohol concentration of at least 70% to be effective. Again, for ease of mathematics (and to provide a little bit of mathematical and measuring buffer) we’re going to make our solution 75% alcohol.
100% – 75% = 25%
So, if we want a 75% alcohol solution from 100% alcohol solution, we can afford to have 25% of other ingredients. In this case, we can have 25% Aloe Vera gel by volume. Applying some mathematics again, we can work out that since 75 divided by 25 is three – or 75 is 3 times bigger than 25 – we must use 3 times as much Isopropyl alcohol as we do Aloe Vera gel.
So, if we mix 75ml of Isopropyl alcohol with 25ml of Aloe Vera gel then the ratio will be right. All we need to do is scale that up or down to make as much or as little as we require.
If you prefer to think in ‘cups’ you need 1 cup of Aloe Vera gel and 3 cups of Isopropyl Alcohol.
So, measure the amount of Aloe Vera gel you scraped into the measuring jug in the previous step, and then measure 3 times that amount of Isopropyl Alcohol and add that to the gel and mix well.
CAUTION: Isopropyl Alcohol is HIGHLY FLAMMABLE
Keep away from any heat sources such as gas hobs that are alight, cigarettes or anything else that is hot.
Isopropyl alcohol is also very volatile, meaning it evaporates quickly and therefore enters the air. It smells bad and will give you a headache quickly. So always use in a well ventilated environment.
Also note that Isopropyl alcohol is a skin irritant so avoid splashing any on your skin. This is why we’re adding Aloe Vera in the first place!
Add Some Essential Oils If You Like
As we mentioned in the earlier section, making our formula at 75% alcohol concentration does give us some leeway to add other ingredients, so if you wanted to add some essential oils to make the formula smell less bad, you could. Lavendar or Tea-Tree Oil might work here.
Decant Into Dispenser Bottle
Once the alcohol and Aloe Vera is thoroughly mixed you can use the funnel to pour the solution into the dispenser bottle. The WHO recommend you then store the bottle for 72 hours before using it as this gives the solution a chance to kill off any pathogens you may have introduced from your own environment. This seems quite a long time to us, but it’s the WHO’s guidance so we’ll go with it.
A Warning About Vodka
Many places online state you can substitute Vodka for Isopropyl Alcohol. This is bad advice. Unless you have your own distillery and a licence to use it. And all the safety equipment to do so. Etc, etc. You don’t. No-one does. It’s bad advice.
Why is it bad advice? Because Vodka is approximately 40% alcohol. In Europe it may be as low as 37.5% – the minimum concentration required for effective hand sanitization is 60%, and generally 70% is recommended. Vodka, may, in a pinch, be a reasonable antiseptic if you’re stuck in the outback and cut yourself and don’t want it to become infected. But for hand santization it’s just a big no.
Drink Vodka (responsibly) – don’t wash your hands in it.
Using Your Home Made Sanitizer With Aloe Vera
It’s important to remember that hand sanitizer is only recommended when you do not have soap and water readily available. And you should probably only use your home made sanitizer when you don’t have any commercial grade sanitizer readily available. But if that’s the case, follow the steps below to improve the chances of properly sanitized hands;
- Squirt a single dose of sanitizer from the bottle on to your hand.
- Rub your hands, including finger and thumb and back of hand thoroughly until the sanitizer has dried.
- Remember your finger tips – rub them in the gel on the palm of each hand.
- Do not dry your hands on clothes or towels. It takes around 60 seconds for hand sanitizer to effectively kill viruses and bacteria and it must be wet to work.
Bear in mind, hand sanitizer cannot work effectively if your hands are visibly soiled with any substances. If your hands are soiled you may need to wash them with soap and water first anyway – or if you can’t you may need to sanitize twice. The first sanitizing will be to remove visible soiling (and therefore you can wipe on a cloth or towel to remove the soiling). Then re-sanitize once the soiling is removed.
Is Alcohol Based Hand Sanitizer Effective Against All Bacteria / Viruses?
No. The CDC, in their article about hand sanitizers, is pretty clear that alcohol based hand sanitizers are less effective against certain types of bacteria or virus than others. Fortunately, from the point of view of Sars-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, proper alcohol based hand sanitizers are effective. But the following pathogens will like survive even a good hand sanitizer;
If you think you’ve been in contact with these pathogens, soap and water hand washing is the only way to reduce your risk.
When To Wash Or Sanitize Your Hands
Both the CDC and the NHS recommend washing your hands regularly. Preferably using soap and water, but that’s not available then hand sanitizer is a good second option. You should wash your hands for at least 30 seconds after the following;
- Going to the toilet
- Blowing or wiping your nose
- Touching surfaces that could be contaminated
And always wash your hands before eating.
Is It Worth It To Make Your Own Hand Sanitizer With Aloe Vera?
At the time of writing, it’s probably not worth it since there’s plenty available online like Amazon and there’s probably plenty available in stores too. If it was me, I’d just buy it. But if you prefer to know exactly what’s in your hand sanitizer you can go through the steps above to make it yourself.
If you want our recommendation for Hand Sanitizer with Aloe Vera – we’d choose this one. We’d choose this one because it does contain Aloe Vera which will help keep your hands from drying and cracking. It’s a massive bottle and can easily then be decanted into smaller bottles for all the family. It’s relatively inexpensive for such a massive amount, and it’ll last ages. Given that it’s so big, we’d hope that it’ll last you until well after the panic buying has settled down again.
- The efficacy of Aloe vera cream in the treatment of first, second and third degree burns in mice. Phytomedicine, 1996
N Bunyapraphatsara, S Jirakulchaiwong, S Thirawarapan, J Manonukul
- The Effect of Aloe Vera Clinical Trials on Prevention and Healing of Skin Wound: A Systematic Review. Iranian Journal Of Medical Sciences, 2019.
Davood Hekmatpou, PhD, Fatemeh Mehrabi, Kobra Rahzani, PhD and Atefeh Aminiyan, PhD
- Antiviral activity of Aloe vera against herpes simplex virus type 2: An in vitro study. African Journal of Biotechnology, Vol 6, 2007
Keivan Zandi, Moloud Abbas Zadeh, Kohzad Sartavi and Zahra Rastian
- Guide To Local Production: WHO-recommended Handrub Formulations. World Health Organization, 2020.
- Vodka – Wikipedia. Wikipedia, 2020