Last Monday, I decided my contribution to the cause was going to be making a shit ton of hand sanitizer for my family and friends. So, I did some research and found what we computer science nerds would call the canonical reference: “Guide to Local Production WHO-recommended Handrub Formulations.” This document describes two formulations for 75-80% alcohol hand sanitizer, which is in excess of the CDC’s recommendation of 60%. (Note, too, that the CDC recommends good handwashing as the best way to prevent disease, but there are plenty of situations where you want to sanitize your hands but you’re away from a wash basin.) One is made with 99.8% isopropyl alcohol, the other is made with 96% Ethanol, which is Everclear (97% ethanol). Both use glycerol (a.k.a. glycerin), hydrogen peroxide and boiled or sterile distilled water. I’m going to go into a lot of detail about what I did, and there’s going to be a follow-up post because I haven’t measured the alcohol content yet, so click below if you want to learn more.
First, I had to source the alcohol, hydrogen peroxide and glycerin. What the stores sell as “rubbing alcohol” is 70% alcohol, and the WHO says 99.8%, so I ordered some 99% alcohol from Amazon. I stupidly ordered way too much glycerin, and I also ordered hydrogen peroxide since that’s been hoarded at local stores. Here are the main ingredients:
Once all this stuff arrived, I also found my collapsible plastic container that I use to store water when camping. If you made this as a 1/4 recipe instead of 1/2 to the WHO’s measurements as I did, you could use a gallon water jug. I also boiled a couple of quarts of distilled water for a few minutes, and filled two measuring cups with boiling water to make sure they were clean. Here’s that container, which I just rinsed out, because it had only been used to store potable water and was bone dry. I think it was a better choice than using stirring equipment, since I could just gently shake it to combine everything, and the relatively wide opening, and on/off cap let me avoid using a funnel.
I wiped down all surfaces with a clean cloth in hot soapy water since this process only requires that everything be clean, not sterile. I also put on disposable gloves to protect my hands.
I scaled the WHO recipe to fit what I was making (their recipe was for 10 liters, and I made ~5 liters. I will post more details on that in the next installment on this, when I’m sure it worked, but it took a little basic high school algebra to figure it out.)
Then, I poured all the ingredients into the container and shook it gently. Note that glycerin is somewhat gloppy, so I poured in some alcohol, poured in the glycerin from the smaller measuring cup, used some of the alcohol to wash out the measuring glass, and then poured in the rest of the alcohol. Note that the WHO recipe is basically 20% water, though they don’t mention it in the ingredients list (they just say to fill the mixing container with water until it gets to the 10 liter line).
Initially I thought that one of the issues was that the glycerin would glop up and not go into solution, but there was no issue – it seems to my eye to be pretty well mixed.
Side note: When I was doing this, I had two voices in my head. One was my Dad, who venerates basic advances in medicine and was a thorough hand washer. I’m sure he would appreciate this stuff, especially when used by a midwife in the African bush prior to attending a tough delivery. The instructions by the WHO are clearly designed to be able to be made in half-assed backwoods hospital pharmacies that are no better than my kitchen, and I bet thousands or millions of infections have been avoided by the use of this stuff. The other voice was Cheryl Rofer saying “What the Fuck!” about my crappy little “lab” setup.
Anyway, I decanted this mixture into some cosmetic pumps that I bought from Amazon, a used rubbing alcohol container that I had in my house, and the bottles the alcohol came in. I’m guessing that clean plastic water bottles would work, too. Since the alcohol bottles had a seal on them, I put some Saran Wrap ™ over the tops of each bottle before I screwed on the cap to avoid evaporation. Also, for the pump dispensers, I pumped some of the product through the dispenser, then locked the dispenser, so that any germs in the dispenser pump and pipe would be killed. The idea is that the dispensers are what you use every day, and the bottles are for storage.
I need to wait 72 hours to use it, because the WHO cleverly added the hydrogen peroxide not to kill germs when using the hand rub, but to kill whatever mold, germs, etc. that might have been added in the initial preparation and aren’t killed by the alcohol.
I did try a sample of it, and it is not like Purell. The Purell that I’ve used either is gloppy (comes out from the pump thick like soap) or foamy. This is neither – it has a consistency similar to water. That said, it leaves less residue than Purell, and my hands are a bit softer than they were when I started. Also, it’s clear that this stuff will evaporate really quickly, so it needs to be in a well-sealed container. The WHO people know their shit, and a big part of this exercise is to make something that won’t trigger allergies and will be tolerable for medical personnel, so no “aloe vera” or essential oils or other things I’ve seen in online recipes. You can add that shit when it’s not a life and death situation.
In the next installment, I’ll detail my adventures with an alcometer, which the WHO says to use to determine that the solution has the proper level of alcohol. I’m on my second order of one of these (they’re like $7, so not a big investment), because the first didn’t ship on time from Amazon. Also, all the ingredients I used are sold out at Amazon, but I’m guessing they’ll be back in stock soon, once the initial panic and hoarding has worn off. If my alcometer arrives, I will calibrate it using liquor from my liquor cabinet (Cheryl just shot her computer like Elvis shot his TV reading that), and then keep measuring it in the pump to be sure the concentration is maintained. The WHO’s recommendation is to dispense this in 500 ml capped containers which I’m sure is in part because of how much it’s going to evaporate.
Obviously, I’m just another jackass on the Internet, but the WHO created this recipe for lightly trained medical personnel, so I hope that it works, and I hope it saves a few lives.