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Do homemade hand sanitisers actually work? We ask the doctors

Health experts tell CNA Lifestyle you’re better off with soap and water – and you can forget about those baby wipes.

With the novel coronavirus all over the news these days, everyone’s talking about good hygiene and taking precautions by wearing masks and using hand sanitisers.

So it probably comes as no surprise that you might have spotted a few posts and articles on your social media feeds regarding the latter – specifically on making your own DIY sprays with various concoctions that often include some essential oils, rubbing alcohol and even aloe vera gel to soothe skin. 

The rationale is that as long as it contains alcohol, it’ll kill germs and stop the virus in its tracks… right?

READ: Is there a safe zone to escape the germs when someone sneezes near you?

But according to doctors CNA Lifestyle talked to, that’s not really the case – there’s a minimum amount of alcohol content needed for it to be effective and other ingredients don’t really contribute anything.

A legit hand sanitiser needs to have at least 60 per cent alcohol to be effective, said Dr Edwin Chng, the medical director of Parkway Shenton.

(Photo: Unsplash/Mat Reding)

Dr Natasha Bagdasarian, a consultant with the Division of Infectious Diseases at National University Hospital, also chipped in by pointing out that “ingredients like essential oils don’t provide reliable protection from these viruses.”

As for using rubbing alcohol – with some solutions containing 60 to 90 per cent alcohol – that’s pretty strong, but not good for your skin.

READ: 6 powerful foods to help your immune system

“Using full-strength rubbing alcohol on your hands could cause dryness and cracking of the skin,” said Dr Bagdasarian. “It is better to use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser as they are specifically formulated for the skin, and may contain emollients or moisturisers.”


What about turning to alcohol-based products as substitutes for hand sanitisers, such as mouthwash and liquor?

Mouthwashes may indeed contain antimicrobial agents including chlorhexdine gluconate and triclosan, said Dr Bagdasarian, but it’s best not to use them as a hand sanitiser even in a pinch.  “The amount of effective cleaning agents may not be consistent with the concentrations needed for cleaning your hands thoroughly," she emphasised.

Furthermore, most brands of hand sanitisers also contain other germ-killing agents such as benzethonium chloride, benzalkonium chloride or povidone-iodine for an effective job, said Dr Chng.

(Photo: Unsplash/Nathan Dumlao)

Meanwhile, using wet wipes to disinfect your hands may not be that effective either because they’re meant for cleaning environmental surfaces, said Dr Chng.

The same goes for baby wipes. "They generally do not contain sanitising chemicals and sufficient alcohol level as that is too irritating to a baby's skin," he said.


So what’s your best bet if you really can’t find a hand sanitiser? “Wash your hands with old-fashioned soap and water for 20 seconds or the time it takes to sing Happy Birthday twice,” said Dr Bagdasarian. 

In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the US noted that soap and water are more effective than hand sanitisers as “people may not use a large enough volume of the sanitisers or may wipe it off before it has dried”.  

Source: CNA/bk