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People may be tempted to make their own hand sanitizers, but expert washing your hands with soap and warm water is a better choice. Getty Images
  • Recipes for homemade hand sanitizers are available online, but experts say those DIY products may not be the best option during the coronavirus disease outbreak.
  • They say the recipes are too complicated for most people, and products that are mixed incorrectly can cause burns or other issues.
  • The experts say washing your hands with soap and warm water is the best way to protect against COVID-19.
FDA Notice

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced recalls of several hand sanitizers due to the potential presence of methanol.

Methanol is a toxic alcohol that can have adverse effects, such as nausea, vomiting, or headache, when a significant amount is used on the skin. More serious effects, such as blindness, seizures, or damage to the nervous system, can occur if methanol is ingested. Drinking hand sanitizer containing methanol, either accidentally or purposely, can be fatal. See here for more information on how to spot safe hand sanitizers.

If you purchased any hand sanitizer containing methanol, you should stop using it immediately. Return it to the store where you purchased it, if possible. If you experienced any adverse effects from using it, you should call your healthcare provider. If your symptoms are life threatening, call emergency medical services immediately.

All data and statistics are based on publicly available data at the time of publication. Some information may be out of date.

As hand sanitizers become more difficult to find, experts are warning consumers to be careful about making their own or mistakenly buying do-it-yourself versions made by amateurs.

They say that proper handwashing and social distancing are the best ways to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.

“Clean hands are a very important way to prevent infection or spread, especially with viruses like the coronaviruses, which can survive on surfaces or inanimate objects for hours to even a day or more,” Stephen Morse, PhD, MS, an infectious disease expert from Columbia University in New York, told Healthline.

“Alcohol-based sanitizer containing at least 60 percent ethanol, preferably at least 62 percent or at least 70 percent isopropanol, is officially recommended,” he noted. “It will kill coronavirus in 15 to 30 seconds, about the time it takes the alcohol to evaporate after it’s applied, so wait for it to evaporate naturally. Sanitizers are not magic. They’re really mostly for convenience, to encourage you to have clean hands when you don’t have access to soap and water or don’t have time to wash.”

Hand sanitizers are a hot commodity in stores and online, with reports of price gouging on Amazon and products being advertised for 50 percent higher than normal.

“That’s really nasty, people taking advantage of everyone’s anxiety and good public health practice to make an extra dollar,” Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Tennessee, told Healthline.

“I’m really unhappy with that and particularly so since obviously all these interventions to prevent the spread of coronavirus have adverse economic effects,” he added. “There are many people who will have a reduction or some people will even lose their salaries during this period of time.”

Dr. Jaime Friedman, a pediatrician from San Diego, is hopeful President Trump’s declaration last week of a national state of emergency over the COVID-19 outbreak will help combat the price gouging.

“I think it’s terrible. Vulnerable people, like the elderly who may be on a fixed income, are not able to afford inflated prices,” she told Healthline. “Now that there is a national state of emergency, this is illegal and hopefully offenders will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”

Those unable to buy sanitizer in stores are hunting for alternatives.

In at least one case, there were serious health consequences.

A boy in New Jersey suffered burns after using a spray sanitizer that had been made by the owner of a local 7-Eleven store. The owner had mixed water with foaming sanitizer that’s commercially available but not intended for resale and put the mixture into a spray bottle.

The 11-year-old boy who used the product suffered chemical burns to his arms and legs. It’s reported that 14 bottles of the spray were sold at the store before police were notified.

Friedman says consumers should always check the label when purchasing a hand sanitizer product to ensure it’s legitimate.

“People should look for bottles that are properly labeled with ingredients listed on the label. A spray is not a typical way to apply sanitizer, so this should be the first sign that this was not an appropriate product,” she said.

“This brings up another common mistake I see: people using disinfectant wipes intended for surfaces, on their hands,” Friedman added. “This is not advisable, as these wipes may contain bleach or other ingredients not meant for consumption or use on skin. The containers will say to wash hands after use and to also wipe down food surfaces after use.”

A guideline issued by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2010 on how to make hand sanitizer has been circulating online.

But experts say the document, which details how to make sanitizer using things such as ethanol and hydrogen peroxide, is too complex for the average person.

“The WHO guidelines are excellent but not really intended for home use and may be too complicated for many,” said Morse. “You can also buy plain liquid ethanol (70 percent) or isopropyl alcohol (71 percent or 91 percent) in the pharmacy in regular or spray bottles. They’re less convenient and not as gentle on the hands as the commercial gels but will work. If you can, plain soap and water are just as good, maybe even better.”

Morse says it’s sensible for people to stock up on some essential items to be prepared, but he argues there’s no need to panic buy.

“It’s a natural reaction to buy up everything when we face the unknown… I’d suggest buying a few weeks’ worth, maybe two to three, of the essentials, including food, paper products, and, of course, cleaning supplies. Do keep a refill of needed medications, and if you have children or pets, anything they will need,” he said.

For keeping homes clean, Morse says most standard cleaning products will be suitable.

“For surfaces, most ordinary cleaning products will work fine. Diluted household bleach… is an excellent disinfectant for serious needs. If you use air spray, make sure it’s germicidal. It should have an EPA registration label or equivalent,” he said.

Schaffner says when people buy supplies in preparation for the day the novel coronavirus comes to their community, they shouldn’t think only of themselves.

“You want enough, but you don’t want to fill your closet with it so that your neighbor can’t get some also,” he said. “We ought to think as a community, not just as individuals.”