DIY – How to Make Your Own Hand Sanitizer

It’s difficult to find good information on making hand sanitizers. There are lots of inconsistencies on formulas, missing steps, demonstrations with laboratory equipment, inconsistent results, and like cooking shows the videos do not show the whole process.

We’re sharing our experience, and knowledge to help the community.  Many of the people in this market don’t know what they don’t know and have released some dangerous products according to the FDA and news sources. We’re are going to help educate you on what to look out for, processes you can reproduce, and access to the needed materials.

Disclaimer: We are not responsible for your outcomes. We do not have control over your processes and environment. Safety first always, take proper precautions, verify measurements, read this document completely and carefully consider your desired outcome, and have fun!

Please review all tabs before attempting to make sanitizer.

See our sanitizer calculator.

Common questions and tips

Liquid or gel hand sanitizer?

We’ll help you with both sanitizers, and identify which is the best for your needs.

The liquid WHO formula is cheaper and very easy to make, with the formula being only 4 ingredients. In a spray bottle it can be a convenient surface sanitizer for shared contact surfaces, (e.g door handles, toilet seats), as well as your hands. An atomizer or spray mist pump reduces waste and increases surface area.

Gels are popular and in demand, but the viscosity, or thickness of the gel, has left people dissatisfied. Generally consumers expect a thick gel from those big brand companies. Just the presence of the alcohol at the right concentration, (60-80%), is what’s needed for disinfecting. Gel is purely a cosmetic function that serves no other purpose than filling an artificial market demand from years of advertising. Instead of educating consumers on planned obsolescence and marketing, we’ve decided to help service their needs.

Which alcohol to use?

Isopropyl Rubbing Alcohol (IPA) or Ethanol (Ethyl Alcohol)?

(Read more about the differences here)

Isopropyl and ethanol have dramatically increased in price, as have the other raw materials needed to make sanitizers. But we’re here to help you with that! There’s a study that addresses exactly this. The most important takeaway from this study is the following citation:

From https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=hand+sanitizer+aloe+vera

“Ethanol, the most common alcohol ingredient, appears to be the most effective against viruses; whereas, the propanols have a better bactericidal activity than ethanol. “

Ethanol is locally produced in many states, and comes in several grades ranging from pure 100% ethyl alcohol used to make spirits, to industrial with toxic impurities. FDA requires USP or FCC grade ethanol you can find here. You can read more about the differences and toxic impurities here. Our ethyl alcohol is filtered at the plant, has to pass a lab test for QC to accept, and is again charcoal filtered through our state of the art, custom built filtration system, to deliver the highest quality ethyl alcohol at reasonable prices.

FDA Foreign Contamination Chemistry, (FCC), Requirements
ImpurityFDA FCC Max limit under this policyOur Lab Results
MethanolNMT 630 ppm70ppm
BenzeneNMT 2 ppm0ppm
AcetaldehydeNMT 50 ppm*30ppm
Acetal (1,1-diethoxyethane)NMT 50 ppm8ppm
Sum of all other impuritiesNMT 300 ppm224ppm

PPM: parts per million
NMT: not more than

* Acetaldehyde appears to be genotoxic, and potentially carcinogenic, when in direct contact with tissues. Given the large number of applications of this product expected by consumers and health care personnel during the public health emergency, exposure to hand sanitizer with high levels of acetaldehyde poses a significant safety concern. We are aware that some consumers and health care personnel are currently experiencing difficulties accessing alcohol-based hand sanitizers and that the CDC recommends consumers use hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol when soap and water are unavailable. 38 CDC recommends consumers use hand sanitizer containing at least 60% ethanol when soap and water are unavailable. Therefore, FDA is temporarily willing to consider ethanol containing acetaldehyde above that permitted by USP at an interim level no higher than 50 ppm, for use in hand sanitizer under this temporary policy. An interim upper limit of 50 ppm is based on available toxicity data for acetaldehyde considering the expected clinical usage and administration of hand sanitizers under this policy.

 

Why do some sanitizers smell bad?

There are a few bad smells, but here’s a simple breakdown on the common reasons.

If it smells like:

  • distillery / booze – USP food grade is used to make recreational alcohol and has < 0.0003% impurities, hence the cost. Our charcoal filtered ethanol meets FDA FCC requirements, smells like the expected alcohol smell, and is of the highest quality with the best lab results we’ve seen.
  • plastic – this comes from the gelling agent. A common misconception is that aloe is the thickener.
  • foul – low quality ethanol smells sulphurous/rank or fruity and is best to avoid. Alcohols are made from different materials high in sugar, (e.g beets, sugarcane, corn). This is not properly filtered alcohol which may still pass as FCC (The FDA Foreign Chemistry Contamination requirements) If you have bad smelling alcohol, contact us about how to get it tested and cleaned up.

Preparing to make sanitizer

Our recommendations will work for creating a hospital grade quality hand sanitizer at a small batch or a large scale for the budding entrepreneurs. Feel free to reach out for help if you plan to start producing sanitizer professionally. We can consult on the ins and outs of creating a safe product with quality raw materials. Contact [email protected] to find out more.

Our easy calculator allows you to customize the formula and scale it to your needs in metric and imperial units. Bookmark our calculator for your future needs.

We’re confident in you! This is a simple process anyone can do, but it’s important to focus and avoid distractions to prevent possible mishaps.

Before you start, inspect your materials and equipment. Clean equipment, surfaces, and work space, and avoid clutter to prevent accidents.

Alcohol is very a dynamic molecule depending on pressure and temperature. Increased temperature will cause expansion, leave at least 5-10% of the intended container empty, especially if you are in a cold climate or region, or experience wide temperature swings like Nevada.

Glycerine, (also called glycerol), is extremely thick, but highly soluble in water. You can break up the steps to mix water with the glycerine to make it easier to work with.

Hydrogen peroxide at concentrations higher than 3% can be very dangerous to work with and is not recommended for the hobbyist or inexperienced. We only sell high concentration peroxide to commercial customers. Safety gear should be worn at all times, but special care must be taken with high concentrations of hydrogen peroxide.

Distilled or sterile water is required.
DO NOT USE tap water.

It’s recommended to print, or email yourself a copy of the formula and instructions. We recommend printing to a PDF file that you can reference from a phone, tablet or laptop to be more eco-friendly.

Start small, identify how much you want to make at a time. It’s better to make a very small amount to verify the process, reduce waste, and gain experience before moving to larger volumes. Fortunately our calculator allows you to go from very small to mass production. We recommend starting with 100mL or about 3 fl oz for the inexperienced, a half gallon or 2 liters per batch for a single person, and 2 gallons or 8L for a family of 4. If you’re making for a larger organization, plan on an eighth to a quarter fl oz, or 3-7mL per use x the number of expected uses per day x number of people x number of days or weeks you want to prepare material for.

Reserve judgment until your finished gel has had time to rest. Remember to document your attempts and learn from them if you are not satisfied with your results. Despite marketing claims from chemical companies about the ease of mixing, some steps are harder than advertised. We’re going to help you minimize experimenting and mistakes, and help set expectations.

Common fallacy: if some is good more is better. Do not exceed recommendations as we’re not responsible for your outcomes or variations. Remember safety first, do not shortcut steps, and heed warnings.

Measure everything, in separate containers. Then measure everything again. Borrowing from carpentry, measure twice, cut once. Fancy lab equipment is not required, there are many inexpensive options available, and you may have most of what you need in your kitchen. Measuring cups, preferably glass, metal or glass mixing bowls, pH strips or digital tester, small digital scale calibration weight, and a child or pet medicinal syringe, (no needle required), for the smaller quantities.

Note: a US nickel weighs 5 grams and you can use that to verify your scale’s accuracy, but calibration is usually done with a preset included weight of 50-100g.

Prepare for clean up before you start, by having soap and supplies handy and ready. Have first aid materials readily available. Wear eye protection and flush eyes immediately and thoroughly if alcohol somehow makes contact with your eyes. Accidents can happen, safety precautions should not be skipped.

Liquid Hand Sanitizer (WHO Formula)

Raw Materials required

  • Ethanol or isopropyl alcohol
  • 3% hydrogen peroxide
  • Glycerine
  • Distilled or sterile water (DO NOT USE TAP WATER)
  • Optional: Essential oils for fragrance

 

Containers, utensils, and tools

  • Wide mouth jug or bottle with a good seal for the finished product
  • Wide mouth jug, mixing bowl, or large stock pot capable of holding 1.5x-2x your desired finished amount
  • Smaller jar with lid
  • Metal or silicone mixing spoon, avoid wood and cheap or porous plastic
  • Optional, and recommended:
    • all of your target spray bottles or containers for the finished product
    • metal or silicone funnel that fits your desired containers, (DO NOT FREE POUR)
    • Address labels and a pen

 

Steps

  1. Review our calculator, and select the WHO formula which defaults to 1000mL of the recommended amounts.

  2. Measure all ingredients, twice. Verify everything before mixing.

  3. Add approximately 1/3 water in the smaller jar, and then add the required glycerine/glycerol and/or aloe. Seal and shake glycerine in the small jar to thoroughly mix.Note: when adding aloe, split the difference with the glycerine. The recommendation is 1.45% total of either or both ingredients.

  4. Pour remaining water and hydrogen peroxide into large mixing bowl or stock pot, and add the glycerine/aloe water and mix. Ideally a larger jug with a good seal is used to agitate by shaking.

  5. Slowly release the top of the jug to release any potential pressure.

  6. If you are transferring to smaller containers, use the metal or silicone funnel and do not free pour!

  7. Seal containers, and apply a label with the date and time. The FDA and WHO recommend leaving material sealed in a container for 72 hours to sterilize the container.

 

Before starting, determine the strength of alcohol you want to make. It’s important to consider what expected outcome you want. The FDA, CDC, and WHO, as well as many independent studies, recommend 60-80% concentration. Most gels on the market are 62%, and this is perfectly fine, and in fact allows for the highest viscosity gel if that’s important to you. Some neutralizers for the gelling agent can be ineffective in higher alcohol concentrations. It’s harder to pump gels through some dispensers and it’s recommended to go with a lower viscosity gel for touchless dispensers.Recommendations:
  • test the pH of the alcohol before you mix anything, this will help indicate how much neutralizer you are going to need and you can adjust the calculator
  • test the pH of the combined ingredients before adding the neutralizer, Remember you can always add more.
  • thickener and neutralizer percentages are ranges based on the pH. The amounts in the calculator are guides to be adjusted based on the pH tests.

Quick reference chart

(Protips and explanations below)
ThickenerNeutralizerViscosity at 62%Viscosity at 70-72%Viscosity at 75-80%
2g/L Carbomer 940/980Triethanolamine(5-10ml/L)thinNot possibleNot possible
3-4g/L Carbomer 940/980Triethanolamine(5-10ml/L)thickNot possibleNot possible
2g/L Carbomer 940/980AMP Ultra PC2000(300-320ml/L)thinthinthin
3-4g/L Carbomer 940/980AMP Ultra PC2000 (300-320ml/L)thickthickthick
2-Propenoic Acid CAS 25212-88-8Triethanolamine(5-10ml/L)thinthinNot possible
Acrylate Copolymer CAS 25035-69-2Triethanolamine(5-10ml/L)thinthinNot possible
*Note: pH is of the final mix prior to adding neutralizer

Thickeners

The ingredient names are very foreign to the uninitiated. Let’s break down the materials listed.

The expense and availability of the materials due to the current pandemic make the liquid hand sanitizer more attractive, as well as the ease in compounding.

Carbomer 940/980 – 940 vs 980, bottom line there’s a small molecular difference called benzene. 980 does not have it while older versions of 940 does. Consider price, quality, availability and if it’s cosmetic grade. This lightweight powder creates a thick gel if you do not exceed 62% using Triethanolamine (TEA), and can make a thick gel up to 75% with AMP Ultra PC2000, but the alcohol starts to thin it out at 76-80%. It’s worth noting that AMP Ultra PC2000 is considerably more expensive than TEA.

The power needs to be “wetted” in a high shear mixer for 30 minutes, (e.g a home blender or food processor). This wetting process can be difficult, and doing this by hand is not recommended. You may still observe white clumps or “fish eyes”, that should disappear when your final compound is left to rest overnight. Several pH tests are required while mixing in the neutralizer and you should target 7.8pH no more than 8pH.

You can buy the carbomer here.

Acrylate copolymer (CAS 25035-69-2) and 2-propenoic acid (CAS 25212-88-8) are milky liquids that clear up when properly neutralized. More material is required but the process is significantly easier. Both are in the same family of chemicals, but the acrylate copolymer (CAS 25035-69-2) is more available and easier to source. We find that the acrylate copolymer (CAS 25035-69-2) depending on the manufacturer, can have a more plastic smell after being neutralized. It’s worth noting the acrylate copolymer is easier to work with and very consistent, but it will never be as thick as carbomer. 

Prior to neutralizing, both have a strong but different plastic smell. 2-propenoic acid (CAS 25212-88-8) on the other hand is a little bit more expensive but yields a low odor easily covered with a fragrance additive such as your favorite essential oils. As with carbomer, you do not want to exceed PH level of 8. The viscosity of the liquids after being reacted is thinner than the carbomer. You can actually add a small amount of carbomer to increase the thickness of the gel. Consider if your gel is going into a squeeze bottle or a dispenser. Thinner gels work better with most dispensers.

Essential oils are absorbed into structure creating by the gelling process, and you do not notice the smell until you apply the gel.

With the acrylate copolymer (CAS 25035-69-2) you may see specs after mixing. Let it rest for approximately 4 hours and they will disappear. Though if you notice a white tint to the 2-propenoic acid (CAS 25212-88-8), it did not sufficiently mix to react to the TEA.

It’s important to note that the 2-propenoic acid (CAS 25212-88-8) needs to be mix at low RPM with no shearing. At a small scale a bench top mixer at 20 RPMs is recommended. This should not be hand mixed as it needs to be a constant slow blend for the polymer to casually meet the other molecules.

What is a CAS number and why are we listing it?

You can search for the CAS number and find all of the chemical properties. Usually the search results will be a PDF file for an SDS (Safety Data Sheet). There are several suppliers out there, but minimum orders are usually 55 gallon drums up to metric tons which is not feasible for the average DIY compounder. We can help you with smaller quantities.

Neutralizers

A neutralizer is used to increase the pH and accelerate the gel reaction. The carbomer or liquids expand to nearly 1000x their original size soaking up the alcohol and water.

Triethanolamine, (TEA) – There are different strengths of TEA, and we recommend a 99% concentration for best results. TEA cannot deal with the salts in alcohol at a high concentration with carbomer 940/980 as noted in the chart above. You will need to use AMP Ultra PC2000 or a similar product to reliably achieve a gel reaction above 62%. You can buy TEA here.

AMP Ultra PC2000 and it’s analogs can achieve a reaction up to 80% alcohol concentration, but the higher you go the thinner it will be before it starts to break down. You don’t see many gels above 72% for this reason.

Optional additives to consider

There are a variety of ingredients to personalize your formulation and we address and can assist you in securing these ingredients, and even built them into our calculator for your convenience!

Aloe Vera Extract – We’ve found that the electrolytes, great for your health, creating binding problems with the carbomer 940/980. It is an excellent moisturizer but remember sanitizer is not a replacement for washing, and even washing hands frequently will dry skin. Aloe is a moisturizer, and aloe gel is also thickened with a similar thickening agent. The firm, clear, sticky plant matter people are accustomed to is actually extracted into a pure liquid or powder with no thickening properties. Find aloe vera extract here.

Glycerine – recommended, but can be omitted. Find glycerine here.

3% Hydrogen peroxide – strongly recommended but can be omitted. Hydrogen peroxide is used as a sporicide for ethanol and to sterile the containers for the final product.

Fragrance – We’ve seen recommendations to avoid citrus essential oils, likely due to the low pH of citric acid (2.2). Remember the neutralizer is to raise the pH for a reaction. Try lemongrass or citral with lavender and rosemary. Very small amounts go a very long way.

Vitamin E – tocopheryl acetates, which are different types of vitamin E, can be added which are very good for the skin, but can be very yellow and discolor the final product.

Formula Using Carbomer 940/980

Raw Materials required:
Containers, utensils, and tools:
  • Blender, food processor, or high shear mixer
  • Metal or glass measuring cups
  • Wire whisk or metal/silicone mixing spoon
  • Flexible silicone spatula
  • Digital gram scale (with calibration weight)
  • Small plastic or tin lid to use with scale, wax paper suitable for small quantities
  • Fine sieve #20 or #25, or fine metal mesh screen
  • Funnel
  • Seal-able wide mouth container for finished product
  • pH meter and/or test strips (it’s recommended to verify digital meters with strips as accuracy can vary with alcohol in the less expensive models)
  • Address labels
  • Pen or marker

 

WARNING: Do not mix alcohol in the blender. The alcohol SDS states that the flash point is 23C. A vitamix can boil soups while blending in minutes which is 100C, (or 212F).

Steps using carbomer
  1. Wet the carbomer by first adding water, glycerine, and hydrogen peroxide to the blender/mixer. Turn on at the lowest speed possible.

  2. Slowly dust in the carbomer over 1-2 minutes through the fine sieve. Crush any clumps through the screen when you’re done dusting. Let it blend for 15 minutes. You may still see clumps or fish eyes. You can blend for 15 more minutes to smooth out the clumps. There’s no such thing as too much blending. If you still see any white spots or clumps, they should disappear overnight.

  3. Empty the mix into the mixing bowl using the flexible spatula to get as much out as possible.

  4. Add alcohol to a separate container, and mix in the optional ingredients to customize your formulation. Alcohol as a solvent will dissolve the oils making for a more even distribution when mixing into the gel. Agitate with a whisk for a couple of minutes or until fully mixed.

  5. Test the pH of the alcohol mix, it should be below 6.6pH.

  6. Slowly incorporate the alcohol mix into your gel while using the whisk. The alcohol will thin the gel. Verify the compound is still below 7pH, the water will raise the pH slightly.

  7. While whisking, slowly add the neutralizer selected based on target alcohol concentration. Add up to half the expected amount and make sure it’s thoroughly mixed. Test the pH. If it’s less than 7.8 you can add more. It’s best to note what the pH is prior to adding the neutralizer and how much is raised after adding half. You can approximate the ratio to get you the rest of the way to 7.8pH but you do not want to exceed 8.

    This notation and approximation may seem more art than science, and is often described as such, but documentation and attention to detail make it a very repeatable process.

    Note: Again it’s worth mentioning that pH strips should be used to verify the accuracy of a new digital pH meter.

  8. Seal, label and mark the container, and let rest overnight. You should have a decently thick gel. You can check the consistency and quality the following day, but it needs to sit sealed for 72 hours to let the hydrogen peroxide sterilize the container. Hydrogen peroxide is also a sporicide which can kill any sports that may have gotten into the alcohol while brewing.

 

WARNING: DO NOT ATTEMPT TO ADD CARBOMER IN THE BLENDER TO THE FINISHED PRODUCT IF YOU ARE NOT SATISFIED WITH THE THICKNESS. This can be a fire hazard and ignite in the blender spraying homemade napalm all over your kitchen. The flash point for ethanol is very low, 23C, and a strong blender like a Vitamix can boil soup. This very well could ignite the ethanol.

NEVER put the alcohol in the blender. “But I make margaritas?” That usually has ice in and you’re blending alcohol that is on average 40% alcohol/80proof. This will not ignite. high concentration ethanol very much can.

 

Process for Liquid Thickening Agent

Raw Materials required:

Containers, utensils, and tools:
  • Metal or glass measuring cups
  • Wire whisk or metal/silicone mixing spoon
  • Flexible silicone spatula
  • Digital gram scale (with calibration weight)
  • Small plastic or tin lid to use with scale, wax paper suitable for small quantities
  • Fine sieve #20 or #25, or fine metal mesh screen
  • Funnel
  • Seal-able wide mouth container for finished product
  • pH meter and/or test strips (it’s recommended to verify digital meters with strips as accuracy can vary with alcohol in the less expensive models)
  • Address labels
  • Pen or marker
Steps using 2-propenoic acid or acrylate polymer
  1. Test the pH of your alcohol, and verify that it’s below 6pH.

  2. Add water, peroxide, and your chosen liquid thickener to a mixing bowl.

    Note: The data sheets say to add it last. We’ve found that a thorough mixing with water first was extremely helpful. We then let it rest for 15 minutes.

  3. Add alcohol to a separate mixing bowl, and mix in the optional ingredients to customize your formulation, (aloe, essential oils, and vitamin E). Alcohol as a solvent will dissolve the oils making for a more even distribution. Agitate with a whisk for a couple of minutes or until fully mixed.

  4. Slowly incorporate the alcohol mix into your water, glycerine, and peroxide mix, while using the whisk.

  1. Test the pH of the alcohol mix, it should be below 6.6pH. If it’s 6.6pH or higher the thickening agent may start to gel as it’s added making the process more difficult to thoroughly mix.

  2. Add the selected liquid thickening agent to the compound and thoroughly mix before adding the neutralizer..

    Note: you do not want to exceed 3.5%. Target 3% and experiment up to 3.5% to increase viscosity.

  1. While whisking, slowly add the neutralizer selected based on target alcohol concentration. The best results are with a low speed table top mixer at 20 RPMs for several minutes. You must thoroughly and evenly mix at a low speed.


    DO NOT USE
    a high shear mixer, it will thin the gel by breaking up the polymer chains.

    Add up to half the expected amount and make sure it’s thoroughly mixed. Test the pH. If it’s less than 7.8 you can add more. It’s best to note what the pH is prior to adding the neutralizer and how much is raised after adding half. You can approximate the ratio to get you the rest of the way to 7.8pH but you do not want to exceed 8. This notation and approximation may seem more art than science, and is often described as such, but documentation and attention to detail make it a very repeatable process.

    Note: Again it’s worth mentioning that pH strips should be used to verify the accuracy of a new digital pH meter.

  2. Seal, label and mark the container, and let rest overnight. You should have a decently thick gel. You can check the consistency and quality the following day, but it needs to sit sealed for 72 hours to let the hydrogen peroxide sterilize the container. Hydrogen peroxide is also a sporicide which can kill any sports that may have gotten into the alcohol while brewing.

Of course you can always just buy the hand sanitizer if these processes are too daunting.