Kelly Sikkema, Unsplash

Hand sanitizer is everywhere and nowhere as New Yorkers fight the infectious new coronavirus, which has spread around the world and sent New York into a state of emergency.  

The cleaner is gone from grocery store shelves, but staff members at Trader Joe’s hold a bottle, ready to pump some into your hands as you wait in line.  Amazon’s overnight delivery is delayed when it comes to hand sanitizer, but at a Brooklyn event, author and activist Rebecca Solnit told the crowd how she made her own homemade batch.

Questions about hand sanitizer? Here are the basics you need to know about how to appropriately use (and if you’re daring, make!) hand sanitizer in the time of coronavirus:

  1. Always try soap and water first, if possible: The CDC recommends using soap and water over hand sanitizer when possible because regular hand washing fights all germs and chemicals.  
  2. Hand sanitizer won’t work if your hands are visibly dirty or greasy: It just won’t. It’s best used in clinical hospital settings; effectiveness declines from there.  All the more reason to try soap and water first, when you can!
  3. Don’t skimp on sanitizer per use: You should be able to completely cover every part of your hand with the sanitizer in order for it to work.  If your supply is running low, don’t try to dose it out; you’re just wasting it that way.
  4. Don’t wipe off excess: The CDC says to keep rubbing your hands until they feel dry.  This should take around 20 seconds. Sing the chorus of your favorite song and scrub.
  5. If you can’t find hand sanitizer, you can make your own: Solnit’s hand sanitizer was made of rubbing alcohol and hydrogen peroxide, with rose geranium essential oils for scent.  Others also put in aloe vera, glycerin, or water. Whatever you use, stick to a 2:1 ratio of alcohol to other ingredients in your home brew.  Sanitizers need to be 60% alcohol in order to be effective, but too much pure alcohol can harm your skin.  
  6. Seriously, try soap and water first: As we move into social isolation within our own homes, hopefully with soap and water readily available, there should be less need for hand sanitizer.  Bring it with you when you venture outside, but otherwise, stick to the suds.