Alarm over coronavirus has caused a run on hand sanitizers. And now, sanitizers from Purell and other brands are exceedingly hard to come by. Where it isn’t sold out, enterprising sellers are charging outrageously inflated prices simply because they can. If you don’t have any hand sanitizer, you’re not likely to get some while the manufacturers create enough supply to meet the frenzied demand caused by panic over coronavirus. (To be clear, we don’t think anyone should panic.)
While using hand sanitizer is a smart way to slow and prevent the spread of viruses, keep in mind that washing your hands thoroughly with soap is more effective than using hand sanitizer. (Here’s a fun list of choruses that work from Twitter if you don’t want to sing “Happy Birthday” to reach at least 20 seconds of handwashing.) But if you’re on a train and a sudden lurch forces you to grab a pole, we can understand wishing for a squirt of something purifying while you’re enclosed for the rest of your trip. So what do you do if you can’t get your hands on the most popular hand sanitizers? In collaboration with Wirecutter, a product review website owned by the New York Times, here’s our advice:
Do wash your hands frequently and thoroughly. This is the smartest thing you can do to prevent the spread of viruses.
Do make sure that if you are able to buy a lesser-known brand of hand sanitizer, it’s made of at least 60% alcohol, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (C.D.C.) That rules out some of the so-called “botanical” options and popular kid-friendly options.
Do make sure that if you decide to try and make your own hand sanitizer, it also contains at least 60% alcohol. This recipe (two parts rubbing alcohol, one part aloe) sounds like it should achieve 60% alcohol. Keep in mind that some recipes call for using liquor (like vodka), which is usually 40% alcohol, and might not reach the threshold you need. For instance, Tito’s Vodka has been urging people not to use its product in DIY sanitizer solutions.
Do dry your hands before applying any hand sanitizer. A 2019 study published in the American Society for Microbiology’s publication, mSphere, found that wet mucus protected the influenza A virus, rendering hand sanitizer less effective.
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Don’t rely on DIY recipes based solely on essential oils. They won’t work.
Don’t be conservative with your sanitizer, even if you’re down to one small travel-size bottle. For it to work, you need to cover every surface of both hands entirely with the sanitizer and rub until dry, according to the C.D.C.
Don’t use any hand sanitizer on greasy or dirty hands; it’s less effective, according to the C.D.C.
Don’t assume all anti-bacterial wipes will do the job. Benzalkonium chloride, the active ingredient in Wet Ones, was found to be less effective than ethanol (as in alcohol, the active ingredient in some sanitizers), hydrogen peroxide, or sodium hypochlorite on coronaviruses in an analysis of 22 studies published in February 2020.
Don’t expect baby wipes to work as well as handwashing or hand sanitizer. Baby wipes don’t have alcohol in them, and rubbing won’t remove germs from your hands the way simple soap and clean running water can.