Hand Sanitizer alternatives or: Lifesavers in your cupboard?

Hand Sanitizer alternatives or: Lifesavers in your cupboard?

As the general anxiety around coronavirus is spreading and face masks of all kinds and hand disinfection is nowhere to be had, it is hard not to fall into a panic. Maybe breathe. And consider how you can be well prepared. So, let’s look at hand sanitizer alternatives.

I do not exclude myself from this. Normally, I would be at work and pretty distracted for most of the day, but as I am currently off sick this week, I am checking the news far too often. There is a certain pull away from the cat videos and soap making tutorials on my phone to put the dreaded word into search angines and mildly panic. So what now?

I wrote a few days ago about the impact of the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak on my travel plans – and what measures I have taken to recover costs for trips cancelled by Foreign Office Advice and Immigration Rules.  I watched how surgical face masks became very scarce and hand disinfection solution gold dust. In Northern Germany, someone even stole 200 litres of hand disinfection form a hospital! Those poor excuses for human beings… Social media has pictures of empty shelves in the hand sanitizer and tinned food section.

These really stir a bit of a panic.

But is there need to panic?


Panic is not going to make things better

It is ALWAYS a good idea to keep one’s prescription medication and a few days supply of cough and cold medicine and painkillers at home. Same for food. Coronavirus aside, you may get ill and not be able to go to the shops for a few days.  There has been lots of advice on frequent hand washing, not touching your face, maintain a distance to other people, and using hand sanitizer. None of these measures will completely prevent an infection but they will minimise the risk.

Recommendations on  good hygiene when travelling

To be honest, you can apply a lot of the following every time you travel. Season flu cause by Influenzavirus reliably hits over the winter months, every year. Because there is a fairly effective vaccine, some herd immunity and medication directed against influenza virus, there are many more known factors and expertise on how to deal with seasonal influenza. Most common colds are caused by different viruses, rhinovirus in about 60-80%, and also coronavirus (different strain), adenovirus, respiratory syncytial virus – and others. The illness is usually short and mild, but I still prefer not to get it when travelling.

Frequent hand washing

There is plenty of soap available to buy. If you’re a soap hoarder like me, you won’t need to go that far. I keep my smelly bars all over my ward robe. One might wonder what I was thinking by buying so much natural soap in Turkey and Jordan. Well. I got it now, and it will be put to good use. When I last checked, soap was still available in large quantities online.

assorted natural soaps - I won't need to buy any soaps for a while
Turkey: soap paradise and it showed…

It might also be worth to pay special attention to your towels. Change and launder them frequently at the highest temperature possible.

Nails, nails, nails

I’m surprised about the general anxiety around hand sanitation yet many women still wear long painted nails. It is bloody clear that you are unable to see what’s going on under a nail with opaque polish on. And even if you do, you’re unable to reach the dirt by simple cleaning measures such as soap and water and a nail brush. So, I suggest, off with the fake nails, off with the polish, keep nails neat and short and free from polish. This mantra is something we healthcare workers must strictly adhere to, anyway. It’s about time it’s rolled out into the general population while we are dealing with increased risk of contagious spread.

Out of hand sanitizer? Consider these hand sanitizer alternatives

There is no need to go to the shops or online. In many places, hand sanitizer is completely sold out.

There are many recipes online to make hand sanitizer form isopropyl alcohol or ethanol. The WHO has a handy pdf with recipes, and not just since yesterday. What is important for it to be virucidal to a certain extent is that the alcohol concentration of the sanitizer is 60% ABV or higher. But not too high as some water is required for the alcohol to pass the cell membrane. It should work against Coronavirus. Coronavirus is and enveloped virus, and its envelope is alcohol-sensitive.

Read more about Basic Protective Measures  as per WHO recommendation.

Can you use Cologne as hand sanitizer alternatives?

So, reading all this, I remembered my nice stash of cheap cologne that I bought in Turkey. Indeed, they are all about 80% ABV, and obviously fine to put on skin, making these a good home hand sanitizer. In fact, that is what they are often used for in Turkey! You may get offered a splash on a bus trip, in public restrooms and at large gatherings. When I travel, I will fill some into two 100ml bottles and use that to help keep my hands clean when I don;t have water and soap available.

Traditional Cologne, mostly from Rebul - super cheap and smells really nice
Too good to use but that’s got to be the best smelling hand sanitizer. 240ml cost 4-5 Euro in Turkey

The only Turkish Cologne I found on Amazon.com seems too pricey, but you might find them in Middle Eastern and Turkish supermarkets. I went to one in Berlin on Saturday when hand sanitizers were sold out pretty much everywhere, and they still had plenty.

In Germany, our Cologne bottles are less generous. 4711 Eau de Cologne is THE German classic cologne. It smells citrus-ey and for me, a little old fashioned,  and they are rather pricey outside Germany. another potential buy when you are in Germany, although I am uncertain about their status regarding animal testing.

For some of the best-smelling Cologne, look no further than the Spanish Alvarez Gomez classic Aqua de Colonia Concentrada.

Spain Shopping
Souvenir from Spain might come in handy. It smells wonderful. Cost: about 8 Euro.

Can you use white spirits like alcohol and gin as hand sanitizer alternatives?

If you go through the drinks cabinet, you will notice even the strongest commercially available drinks rarely go above 40% ABV. The lower alcohol content reduces their sanitizing qualities. Cask strength whisky  (50-75%ABV) and overproof rum (55-75%ABV) may be an exception, but they will be a very expensive hand sanitizer. So  – rather not!

High-percentage alcohol as hand sanitizer alternatives

Here in Western Europe, there is a tradition of making your own liqueur from fruits and, well, high-percentage alcohol. It is easy to buy 69% ABV neutral spirits for that purpose.  Being mindful of the 60% ABV concentration, you will not be able to add much glycerin or aloe vera gel for skin-conditioning properties.

You can even buy even stronger (96% ABV) ethyl alcohol called “Weingeist” (“Spirit of Wine”) in Germany.  It is non-denatured and falls under the alcohol consumption tax  – and is fairly pricey. The denatured version of ethylalcohol as well as the unfit for human consumption isopropylalcohol are cheaper. Make sure it is licensed for cosmetic purposes  or human consumption to ensure its free from any further additives. Also, consider adding glycerol or something similar (some people use Aloe Vera gel) so help moisturise skin, as alcohol will strip the skin of oils.

You can use these high-percentage alcohols to make hand sanitizer alternatives.

Sometimes you can buy “perfumers alcohol” which often is food-grade standard but contains propylene glycol. It is less toxic than ethanol (when consumed) and has some antiseptic properties but is not on the WHO recommendation above.

Essential oils

There are many essential oils with antimicrobial properties. Tea tree oil is perhaps the most well-known one. There is a lot published about them! Here is  an example of an article where a blend of  cinnamon, wild carrot, rosemary and eucalyptus globulus essential oils showed a broad spectrum antimicrobial activity, including the H1N1 (“swine flu”) Influenza virus.

Essential oils are great to add to any homemade hand sanitizers for their smell and perhaps some antimicrobial properties although I would not rely on the antimicrobial properties of shop-bought essential oils alone.

Other essential oils with antimicrobial properties are oregano, clove, thyme, citronella, lemongrass and lemon.

Shopping, perfume, pharmacy, France
Okay, four of these have antimicrobial activity, and they’re already in my medicines cupboard. Good.

Okay, that’s just my two cents to the hand sanitizer dilemma. If you have any comments or suggestions, please let me know! And please: Do not hoard hand sanitizer. Or anything else that might be needed by others.

The small print

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