In the weeks since the first cases of coronavirus started appearing in the United States, we’ve been repeatedly warned that we need to be washing our hands before eating in public, after riding public transportation, and after touching anything that could’ve, at any point, come in contact with another human.
We should’ve been doing some of that anyway, but the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) know that we haven’t exactly been on top of hand hygiene, so they’re reminding us every chance they get. Instead of doing that, though, we’ve been emptying entire shelves of Purell into our baskets at Duane Reade, and buying Clorox wipes like we plan on single-handedly cleaning up after a mass-murder.
Retailers have reported that they’re sold out of hand sanitizer, and some truly awful Amazon sellers have reportedly raised prices to as much as $400. As a result, everyone’s newsfeed is filled with articles that either explain how to make a DIY version, or that warn that we shouldn’t be mixing up homemade Purell.
Many of the online recipes are a combination of rubbing alcohol and aloe vera, although some suggest that isopropyl alcohol can be swapped out for the ethanol version found in vodka. The problem is that—as you learned every weekend of your junior year—the percentage of ethyl alcohol in bottled spirits can range from around 40 percent (80 proof) in some vodkas, to as high as 95 percent (180 proof) in undiluted grain alcohol, or everclear.
Tanya Crum, a biology professor at Benedictine University in Lisle, Illinois, told USA Today that the 40 percent alcohol content in 80-proof vodka, for example, is “not concentrated enough to kill viruses."
Tito’s Vodka is one of those 80-proof brands, and the company’s Twitter account has spent the past day politely telling people that they cannot and should not use it in their hand sanitizer recipes. “Per the CDC, hand sanitizer needs to contain at least 60% alcohol,” it has copied-and-pasted.
“Tito's Handmade Vodka is 40% alcohol, and therefore does not meet the current recommendation of the CDC. Please see attached for more information.” It also points out that regular hand-washing gets the job done too. (Also, a 750-milliliter bottle of Tito’s sells for about 20 bucks. The only vodka that should be used on your contagion-covered hands is a plastic-bottled brand that you’re embarrassed to purchase.)
The CDC website doesn’t provide any instructions for making your own hand sanitizer, but a pre-coronavirus page called “Handwashing and Hand Sanitizer Use” advises that it is most effective if you put enough of it on your hands to “cover all surfaces” and then rub your hands together for at least 20 seconds or until they feel dry to the touch.
Or, for the one-billionth time, you could just wash your hands with soap and water.