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Using Vodka-Based DIY Hand Sanitizer to Ward Off Coronavirus Is a Waste of Booze

Yes, vodka contains alcohol — but not enough to stop a pandemic

Tito’s, I love ya, but there’s no way I’m using you as hand sanitizer. Burnett’s or Mr. Boston, maybe, but if there’s anything I’m going to do with a $30 handle of vodka, it’s getting drunk. 

Given the shortage of hand sanitizer in the midst of coronavirus fears, some are seeking DIY alternatives to clean hands. Somehow, people have forgotten about good ole handwashing, and the people behind Tito’s Handmade Vodka have felt the need to announce that their product is not an effective weapon against the virus, because of course they had to. 

In fairness, vodka has been cited as a cleaning product of sorts in the past. It’s clear, it lacks additives (making it a hypothetically better choice than say, agave-based tequila or spiced-up Fireball) and is at least 40 percent alcohol. Writer Susan Casey explained in Outside Magazine that a flask of vodka is part of her emergency preparedness kit when adventuring, pouring it over scrapes and cuts in a pinch. If you find yourself with an open wound and vodka is all you’ve got, it’s better than nothing: At 80 proof, vodka does indeed have some disinfectant properties. As we’ve noted before, this also makes it a reasonable choice for light household cleaning or getting icky scents out of fabrics (or even just scrubbing down your yoga mat) — assuming you’re out of actual cleaning products and want to get rid of your booze.

But when it comes to killing off life-threatening bacteria? Forty percent alcohol isn’t enough. The Centers for Disease Control recommends that hand sanitizers contain at least 60 percent alcohol (though handwashing still ought to be your first line of defense — if clean water and soap aren’t available, then hand sanitizer is the next best thing). 

The CDC doesn’t offer any alternatives for those without either, probably because they know we’re dumb and will likely fuck it up. Similarly, the World Health Organization has an official guide for creating a DIY hand sanitizer of sorts, but it’s intended for medical professionals in regions without clean water or adequate hand sanitizer. Their recipe calls for a stainless steel tank of 80 to 100 liters, an alcoholometer and 50-liter polypropylene tanks, which you probably don’t own unless you’re Walter White

But won’t vodka at least kiiiiiiind of work, you ask? Maybe, but studies have found that hand sanitizer with less than 60 percent alcohol either doesn’t kill many types of germs, or only momentarily reduces the number of germs (meaning, they can just reproduce). Notably, even good hand sanitizer doesn’t kill everything, hence that “99.9 percent effective” claim. Hypothetically, Everclear with more than 60 percent alcohol might work a bit better than vodka, but experts say straight alcohol can be harmful to the skin, and who wants to get coronavirus and have ashy hands? 

Look, vodka might be better than nothing if you’re in an actual emergency, but it would be irresponsible for Tito’s or the CDC to state that vodka is a solid backup. Knowing how we’ve handled things thus far, it would probably just cause a vodka shortage and we’d all still get sick anyway. 

Plus, God knows, if I’m gonna be quarantined for a few weeks, I’m gonna need it for its intended purposes.