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How To Make Non-Toxic Hand Sanitizer

Affiliate Disclosure | in Healthy Home | by | with 36 Comments

Hey mamas! This article is a follow up piece to this one on bacterial contamination in commercial hand sanitizers. If you’d like even more reasons to avoid chemical sanitizers, check out this post on triclosan. 

I Exfoliate In My Sleep

Mud Mask, Katie Style  ; – )

That, mamas, is the beauty of motherhood. Kids wake you up in the dead of night because they need to nurse, or can’t find their favorite purple dinosaur, or wrecked your car the first day you bought it (sorry, mom!)

But on the other hand they teach you power of breast milk to cure pink eye/burns/earaches, redefine the therapeutic mud mask, and of course smuggle sandbox deposits into bed so you can scrub your way to ultra-soft skin all night long.

Or maybe that’s just me.

You see, even though I’m about to devote a whole post to making hand sanitizer, I believe the first line of defense against bacteria is to be less “sanitary.” My kids think this is great, because part of that philosophy means they don’t take baths everyday. I think it’s mostly great, except when I’ve overlooked their plot to pack sand in their armpits and dump it in my bed!

But so be it. I have my reasons, and first and foremost on that list is . . .

The Acid Mantle

If you’ve never heard of it, “The acid mantle is a very fine, slightly acidic film on the surface of the skin acting as a barrier to bacteria, viruses and other potential contaminants that might penetrate the skin.[1] It is secreted by sebaceous glands. The pH of the skin is between 4.5 and 6.2, so it is acidic.[2][3] [Bacteria, viruses] and other chemicals are primarily alkaline in nature and the skin’s moderate acidity helps to neutralize their chemical effects.”

Basically, this means that our skin has a built-in protection system which neutralizes quite a bit of  pathogenic bacteria and viruses on contact. Beneficial bacteria thrive in this type of environment, further protecting us from harm. Unfortunately, modern “hygiene” in the form of alkaline soaps, shampoos and lotions damage the acid mantle and make us more vulnerable to infection. We’ll talk more about that in a bit, but here’s the twist:

Kids don’t have an acid mantle.

Yep, when babies are born they quickly build up an acid mantle to protect themselves in the early stages of life. [4][5] [6] However, throughout most of childhood the acidity of their skin (PH) stabilizes around a 7, which is perfectly balanced between acid and alkaline. Why do I think this is? I’m so glad you asked! I believe it’s because childhood is the training ground for a child’s immune system, and the body recognizes this window of opportunity. When puberty hits the body adjusts it’s PH to create a higher acid mantle, and we enjoy the protective benefits for life, provided we don’t wash it off!

Am I Saying We Should Never Wash Our Hands?

Of course not! Mamas, I have been in some nasty places. One summer I lived in a condemned warehouse where sewage leaked from the roof of the bathroom (don’t ask, I was helping with a children’s program). I have stayed in places where “flushing the toilet” meant grabbing a bucket and throwing it in the bowl. I just try not to go overboard and destroy the protection I already have.

So what do we do when hand washing is not an option? Hand sanitizer, of course! Many of you asked what I think of Clean Well, and my answer is I don’t really know. The Skin Deep database lists it as very low on the toxicity scale, but several of the ingredients (like sodium decylglucosides hydroxypropl sulfonate), have little or no data collected on them yet. For that reason, I prefer to make my own hand sanitizer at home. There are tons of recipes out there, but here are my favorites. They’re all made with essential oils, which have potent anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties (even against superbugs like MRSA!)

Note: You may notice that none of these formulas contain rubbing alcohol, which is often used in homemade sanitizers. This is because alcohol disrupts the acid mantle and kills good bacteria along with the bad.

Homemade Hand Sanitizer Recipes

This homemade “Lysol” recipe from my favorite herbalist Katja Swift was found to be more effective than standard hospital sanitizer, and it smells great! To convert it from an air purifying spray to a hand spritzer just find a smaller bottle and throw it in your purse!

LOVE this recipe from DIY Natural (update: a reader pointed out that some witch hazel contains 70% alcohol, so you might want to skip the small amount recommended in this recipe. Or you could buy some from Mountain Rose Herbs, which contains only 30%)

I also really like this one from Lea at Nourishing Treasures, though I’d probably increase the essential oil ratio a smidge and switch out the orange oil for a stronger anti-microbial like thyme, lavender, rosemary, oregano, eucalyptus, thieves* or Doterra’s On Guard blend.

Colloidal silver is also a great antibacterial, but I don’t have a product recommendation because I’m not sure which ones contain nanoparticles and which don’t.

*Thieves essential oil blend was tested at Weber State University and found to be over 98% effective against microbes

Do you have a favorite hand sanitizer recipe? Share it below!

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36 Responses to How To Make Non-Toxic Hand Sanitizer

  1. Deanna Fitzpatrick via FB says:

    Awesome article! Can’t wait to make them. Your link to Nourishing Treasures isn’t working and you don’t have a link directly to their hand sanitizer recipe.

  2. Deanna Fitzpatrick via FB says:

    Awesome article! Can’t wait to make them. Your link to Nourishing Treasures isn’t working and you don’t have a link directly to their hand sanitizer recipe.

  3. Mommypotamus via FB says:

    Ahhh, thanks for letting me know Deanna Fitzpatrick! The links are working now :)

  4. Brandis says:

    … and the link to the DIY naturals one goes to the Katja Swift one.

  5. Kim says:

    Hi! It’s such a great idea to get away from all those soaps, and use some positive ingredients for cleaning hands. Thanks for your post!
    In our house we use grapefruit seed extract (GSE) diluted with water, one drop per ounce of water. I keep spray bottles by the sinks and a small one in my purse.

  6. LeeandMaia Forde via FB says:

    Excited about this!!! :)

  7. Janet says:

    Great presentation – I hope many people read this and it begins to make a difference to a common but mistaken view on bacteria and our children!

  8. Leah says:

    I have been wondering about something. I ordered some Witch hazel extract from mountain rose herbs and it is based in 70% alcohol. I was somewhat surprised. Is this always the case? If so, one of the recipes that calls for Witch hazel is really alcohol based.

    • Heather says:

      Ahh, thanks for letting me know Leah! I haven’t used witch hazel in a long time so that totally slipped by me!

    • Christine Decarolis, LMT says:

      I think you need to double check what type of alcohol is being used. If I’m not mistaken, grain-based is okay, the other is a petroleum derivative and it is not okay.

  9. Sarah says:

    A couple of the links said that they are not safe for use in nursing moms or infants. The first one did not mention it, but do you think that it is okay to use as hand sanitizer for a nursing mom and 16 month old nursling?

    • Heather says:

      I am not qualified to give medical advice, but I like this comment from Emily on my post about making homemade bug spray (which also uses essential oils):

      “Peppermint is used with caution for nursing moms because it is thought to decrease milk supply., but clinically I haven’t really seen this to be true. Personally, I drank tons of catnip tea after my second was born. It helped to keep be emotionally grounded post partum (read: not yell at my husband), and my baby was a perfect angel with no health issue. My point is that warning labels for herbs are usually extremely conservative, especially when the application is topical. They shouldn’t be ignored, but If I were pregnant or nursing and in a swarm of mozzies, I wouldn’t hesitate to dump a bottle of the first recipe all over myself – but that’s just me. ;)”

  10. Hand Sanitizer Recalled For Containing Burkholderia Cepacia Bacteria « The Mommypotamus says:

    […] Follow-Up Post: How To Make Non-Toxic Hand Sanitizer […]

  11. shuhan says:

    this is so helpful! I’ve always been paying attention to my food, makign sure I eat food that’s real and natural and whole, but only recently have learnt how important it is to keep the products that we use on our body real and natural too as our skin absorbs all these toxins too! makes no sense to only pay attention to one and neglecting the other! have now started using raw honey as a cleanser, but was thinking of switchign out my handsoap, this is a great article, thanks x

  12. Linky Links: July 2012 | OUR NOURISHING ROOTS says:

    […] I recently read that there was a recall on some hand sanitizer because, get this, it was growing bacteria.  What?!  Fortunately, Heather has this handy collection of non-toxic hand sanitizer recipes. […]

  13. Jana says:

    We use Thieves at our house. LOVE. It. Smells divinely of cinnamon!

  14. The Reading Corner: August 16, 2012 | Too Many Jars in My Kitchen! says:

    […] Homemade Hand Sanitizer – Do you use hand sanitizer?  I typically don’t, but might change my mind with this recipe from Mommypotamus. […]

  15. Christine Decarolis, LMT says:

    I am a massage therapist. I use hand sanitizer in my practice because I am allergic to soap. After reading several articles that have come out about commercial santizers, I decide to switch to an all natural formula. This post has been a great help. Thanks.

  16. My Favorite Things - July - Nourishing Joy says:

    […] Looff carousel in my hometown with my kiddos (In the sweaty summer heat, I was glad I carried this homemade hand sanitizer with […]

  17. Christina says:

    I shared your post with a friend and she just e-mailed me and told me that she read somwhere that boys should stay away from lavendar. I wrote her back and asked her where the article was from that she read and why but she hasn’t written me back. Have you heard this before and if so, why would just boys need to stay away from it???

    • Heather says:

      Yes, lavender can mimic estrogen in the body so it should be avoided in large amounts. Chamomile, on the other hand, has an anti-estrogenic effect which is why they are sometimes used together. Hope that helps!

  18. Christina says:

    I just made your hand sanitizer recipe from Katja Swift which is a recipe which includes water in a spray bottle and then put 10-20 drops of Rosemary and Lavender. I filled about 6 spray bottles with this recipe and have been using it for hand sanitizer (for myself and the kids), sprayed down doorknobs, light switches, counter tops, bathroom sinks, etc, and used it for a “lysol” spray for the air. If Lavender is bad for young boys (I have 3) because it mimics estrogen in the body should I stop using these spray bottles and the hand sanitizer I made for them using this recipe and go with a different recipe or is it just a risk I should take since I already spent the money on the lavender oil and spray bottles and just hope they don’t get big boobs! ha ha. Did you use this recipe for Micah as a hand sanitizer?

  19. Links I Loved in October | The Polivka Family says:

    […] eye friendly from Thank Your Body Color Your Hair with Black Walnut Powder from Health Extremist How To Make Non-Toxic Hand Sanitizer from The Mommypotamus Natural Wrinkle Releaser [Vinegar Spray] from DIY Natural Cleaning Your […]

  20. All these flu theories (and all these illnesses) are making me crazy! « hundredgrasses says:

    […] More for the flu toolkit: with all the crazy flu stuff, I came across this mention of thieves oil blend (yes, again!) and some old research from ’97 showing some great effectiveness against microbes.  Also, it’s interesting to learn about the natural ph balance of skin and the barrier on the skin (acid mantle) that we wash away with antibacterials and hand sanitizers.  It’s confusing because we want to be healthy, but there’s so much fallout from chemical stuff. And it’s annoying to research everything. So I thought I could post a couple of links in case you are interested in some blog entries about Thieves and about our skin and how to keep it protective.  And here is a link that goes into making hand sanitizer and more about the acid mantle. […]

  21. Michelle says:

    I know this is off topic, but do you vaccinate? What is your take on v
    accines? Just saying bc I can see you’re into safe, natural lifestyles. :-)

  22. Lara Condon says:

    Thank you for this article…trying to come up with the winning combination that will kill the bad bugs but not the good ones or upset the pH balance! Do you know of any research about GSE? Does it kill the good guys too? After my daughter had a bout with Salmonella, I have been much more cautious about making sure her hands are clean. They don’t have a hand washing option at school and every day they are given a squirt of hand sanitizer at snack and at lunch! Ugg!! Going to try one of these natural one

  23. Diana says:

    Im currently still nursing (like crazy it seems) my 18 month old. Is it safe to use these DIY antibacterial recipes? I tend to not think so much anymore about avoiding essential oils now that shes older but maybe I should rethink this? My research on the topic is coming up spotty… Any personal thoughts? Our music class has a lot of mouths on instruments and would love to pack this in my bag. Thank you

  24. Jasmine says:

    Please be careful in using tea tree oil around dogs, cats, rabbits and other pets because it can be toxic to them!! Same with witch hazel rhat is made with isopropyl alcohol.

  25. Elysia says:

    Great info – thanks!! FYI I just checked my Humphrey’s Witch Hazel and it is only 14% alcohol. The generic brand at my local drugstore is also 14%.

  26. Lisa says:

    I just wanted to share with everyone that, when researching (quite a bit), I discovered that there are two brands of colloidal silver that are considered to be the top two “true colloidal silvers” when compared with many of the other well-known, popular brands. They are Mesosilver and Utopia. You can find both companies online entering the brand names in your search box. Utopia is a little less expensive and they do have specials. I prefer Utopia brand because of the price. You can buy larger-sized bottles from either company, and each site has quite a bit of educational information about colloidal silver. Mesosilver has gel form available, which is great for wounds and direct application to the skin. However, the liquid can just as easily be sprayed on or mixed with a little coconut oil to make it a little more “gel-like.” By the way, whether you want to use colloidal silver in the making of your own hand sanitizer, or whether you want to drink it for the cold or flu, or use it to cure eye or ear infections, or for a bladder infection (so many uses – its amazing stuff!) you WANT it to be in nanoparticles so it will be bio-available. I also learned that “ionic/ionized” silver is what you want more for topical/skin application and the regular colloidal silver is best for ingesting or for ears, eyes, etc….either way, in either version, it is amazingly effective and safe. Hope this information helps! Knowledge is power!

  27. Kathleen says:

    Thanks for the great ideas! We use this easy DIY recipe for hand sanitizer at our house:

    Also, all the hype about lavender adversely affecting boys was disproven. I have all boys at my house and we use lavender all the time. Robert Tisserand, a well known expert on essential oils, explains more here:

    Hope that helps!

  28. Kimberley says:

    Your link to the hand sanitizer does not work, please fix.

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