Hand sanitisers have their place, but you can’t beat soap and water

Washing your hands with soap and water the best way to help prevent the spread of infection

The widespread fear of catching the new coronavirus – now called Covid-19 – has led to shops and pharmacies selling out their stocks of hand sanitisers – and to a leap in online searches for recipes for home-made versions.

While health officials acknowledge that hand sanitisers – which are at least 60 per cent alcohol-based – can remove many germs (and the virus) from your hands, they recommend washing your hands with soap and water as the best way to help prevent the spread of infection.

The key times to wash your hands (for at least 20 seconds) are before, during and after preparing food, before eating food, after going to the toilet, after blowing your nose, sneezing or coughing, after touching an animal or after any contact with refuse bins. To prevent spreading infection from your hands, you should also avoid touching your face (nose, mouth and eyes in particular) with your hands, especially when you are in public places.

However, many people remain concerned about catching infections from contact with hard surfaces in offices, cafes, on trains or in other public spaces. While we still don’t know how long droplets from the coronavirus can live on these hard surfaces, having access to your own homemade sanitise will alleviate your fears and help reduce the spread of many germs.


The World Health Organisation (WHO) emphasises that in order to protect yourself from the new coronavirus, soap and water, or an alcohol-based solution, is essential. Washing with soap and water or using an alcohol-based hand rub kills viruses that may be on your hands.

In America, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommend, if soap and water are not readily available, to use a hand sanitizer with at least 60 per cent alcohol. Some people are combining rubbing alcohol and aloe for a sanitiser.  However, this would only be useful if a majority of the resulting liquid was alcohol.

Based on the CDC's recommendation, a home-made hand sanitizer could be, say, 160ml of isopropyl alcohol and 80ml of emollient. Essential oils could be used to give the mixture a pleasant smell.

When using a hand sanitiser, you must apply it to the palm of one hand and rub it all over your hands and fingers until your hands are dry. Hand sanitisers work best on clean hands. Too much alcohol-based hand sanitiser can dry out your hands, removing the natural oils and potentially causing cracks which would create a point of entry for germs.

Of course, hand sanitiser and all cleaning products should be stored out of the reach of children.

Perhaps the best advice is: wash your hands regularly, and using soap and (preferably warm) water is more than adequate.

Note: this article was updated on Friday, March 6th to reflect the fact that only certain types of sanitisers would have any effect on the coronavirus