We are hand sanitizer power users. The first 6-months of our baby’s life perfectly overlap with cold and flu season so our house, cars, and bags are littered with hand sanitizer bottles. I thought nothing of it when I grabbed a new bottle at Aldi days before the massive COVID-19 run on hand sanitizer. Prior to the pandemic, I wondered if the cost to make your own hand sanitizer would be cheaper than store bought, and if homemade hand sanitizer would reduce our plastic bottles waste.
From running the numbers, I found making your own hand sanitizer is about a wash (ha!) in terms of cost and plastic use. The ingredients for DIY hand sanitizer also come in plastic bottles and the cost is also about the same.
The big difference comes in terms of safety – unless you make your hand sanitizer perfectly, it is less safe. If your homemade hand sanitizer is too weak, it won’t be effective but will give you a false sense of security or decreased hand-washing. Too strong and homemade hand sanitizer may dry out and chap your skin. I decided to stick with store bought hand sanitizer and hand-washing. Here’s how I brought it down:
Recipe to make your own hand sanitizer
The CDC recommends that hand sanitizer contains at least 60% alcohol. To achieve this, the recipes floating around the internet recommend ⅔ cup of high-percentage rubbing alcohol and ⅓ cup aloe vera.
Many of the recipes popping up don’t specify what percentage of rubbing alcohol to use – depending on what percent you have, you’ll want to adjust the aloe vera portion of the recipe so the final concentration of alcohol stays above 60%. Using 70% rubbing alcohol – the most widely available concentration over the counter – would only yield a 47% concentration in your DIY hand sanitizer. 99% rubbing alcohol is tougher to find in the store in a small quantity and more expensive so I would use 91% rubbing alcohol. Two-thirds cup of 91% rubbing alcohol diluted with ⅓ cup aloe vera would be a 60.6% concentration if measured perfectly, so I would do a heavy pour on the rubbing alcohol to make sure you’re meeting the CDC threshold.
Because of this, I’ll use the following make-your-own hand sanitizer recipe for calculating costs, which calls for slightly more alcohol:
- ¾ cup 91% rubbing alcohol
- ⅓ cup aloe vera
Cost comparison of homemade vs. store bought hand sanitizer.
The hand sanitizer shortage has upped the demand for DIY hand sanitizer ingredients as well. Rubbing alcohol and aloe vera may be in shorter supply than usual. 91% rubbing alcohol is also not as common as 70% rubbing alcohol. I keep 91% rubbing alcohol on hand to clean used baby items (part of my bedbug paranoia) and it took me going to three stores to find it over the summer. I imagine in pandemic panic, it has become even more scarce. I base these prices on Walmart since it shows as available at my local store. In the past, I was not able to find 91% rubbing alcohol at our local CVS, and the bottles I bought at Rite-Aid/Walgreens were about double the price of Walmart’s.
- 1 32oz. bottle of 91% rubbing alcohol – $2.50
- 1 20oz. bottle of aloe vera after sun gel – $2.87
- TOTAL SUPPLY COST – $5.37
One 32oz bottle of rubbing alcohol will yield 5 batches of DIY hand sanitizer, at a cost of roughly $1.07 per batch.
Each batch will yield 1.08 cups or 8.66 oz of homemade hand sanitizer. This gives a per oz cost of ~$0.124 per oz.
A 34oz bottle of Walmart brand hand sanitizer costs $3.97 a bottle, or $0.117 per oz.
The verdict: Buying ready-made hand sanitizer is slightly cheaper than homemade hand sanitizer.
Note: Some dollar stores carry aloe vera, which would bring the cost down, but they likely do not have 91% rubbing alcohol. If yours does, making your own hand sanitizer with dollar store ingredients would be cheaper than buying a $1 bottle of hand sanitizer.
Washing your hands is cheaper and more effective than store-bought or homemade hand sanitizer
Washing your hands is cheaper, easier and more effective than using hand sanitizer. The CDC recommends hand-washing over hand sanitizer. Hand sanitizer fails to kill some germs like stomach-bug causing norovirus or C. diff. Hand soap is also cheaper than both store bought or homemade hand sanitizer. A 56oz bottle of Wal-Mart hand soap costs 3.84, or $0.069 an oz – almost half the price of hand sanitizer.
When available, opt for washing your hands for sanitary and economical reasons.