Hand sanitiser sold out? Expert cautions not to try make your own

23 March 2020 - 16:43
By Sanet Oberholzer

The spread of coronavirus and the measures government has taken to prevent a full-on outbreak in SA have caused some people to panic. But even before people started panic-buying roll upon roll of toilet paper and non-perishable foods, shops across the country were selling out of hygiene products such as hand sanitisers, wet wipes and antibacterial liquids, prompting some consumers to start making their own hand sanitiser using internet recipes.

If you’ve missed the boat and find yourself in the unfortunate position of not being able to find hand sanitiser, do not panic. “Soap and water is still the gold standard,” said medical doctor Anastacia Tomson. “A thorough handwash remains the cornerstone of effective hygiene.”

Dr Susan Louw, medical practitioner and haematopathologist at the National Health Laboratory Service, concurs. “The coronavirus is sensitive to detergent, so soap and water will do the exact same thing as hand sanitisers,” she said. “You only need to use hand sanitiser if soap and water aren’t available.”

“For visibly soiled hands, sanitiser is not ideal in any case, and a thorough wash should be undertaken,” added Tomson.

Ordinary soap will do the trick, but it is recommended you wash your hands with warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds. Dr Louw added that an easy guideline for children is to encourage them to sing Happy Birthday to the end when they wash their hands.

There are also points during the course of the day at which it is recommended you wash your hands, such as when you’ve been to the toilet, before preparing or eating food, if you’ve been in contact with anyone showing signs of respiratory infection, for children after coming home from school, after you’ve used public transport or when you’ve shared equipment in the workplace.

“Whenever you think of it, do it,” said Louw.

As for resorting to making hand sanitiser, Tomson warned against this. She said there were many different recipes out there, and not all of them safe.

“Many involve mixing potentially harmful chemicals together, while others will result in an ineffective preparation that may not kill pathogens. I'd be very cautious in trying to mix my own sanitiser, especially in this day and age of fake news and misinformation.”