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Fly, Fix, Fail – Alcohol-Free Sanitizers Won’t Cut It

Post by Sandy Powell on October 10, 2020

In our latest installment of Fly, Fix or Fail, this is a timely review of a few hand sanitizer formulations or recipes floating around out there on the social media school of making lousy products.  In my opinion it is very important to expose these types of products  for being ineffective and due to their intended use, very dangerous because they need to be effective at a specific task… killing germs.  I will also mention that if you are purchasing a “hand sanitizer”, do not take the word of the manufacturer or seller that it is approved by Health Canada. Some unscrupulous companies are telling customers their product is ‘made to Health Canada standards‘ which is rather misleading as it does not in any way mean Health Canada approved. Here is the list of Health Canada approved Sanitizers.

The Natural Product Number or Drug Identification Number should be clearly displayed on the label

The product registration number must be clearly printed on the label or do a search of the company on Health Canada website. The following is a sample of ingredient lists I have seen lately of “natural  or non-alcoholic hand sanitizers”:

Water, witch hazel, aloe gel / spray, glycerine, essential oils (namely, ti-tree, lavender, eucalyptus, oregano, thyme, lemon, rosemary), probiotics, Vitamin E.

So let’s analyze this basic ingredient list. I would like to first mention that none of these ingredients are effective for killing viruses, bacteria and other microbes. I know, I know, some of you think that Eucalyptus and Ti-Tree are going to be useful, but unfortunately the percentage you’d require to be effective would likely cause severe irritation or possibly burns to your hands. Plus, the aroma could be quite overwhelming to you and others around you. Remember that hand sanitizers are often used repeatedly throughout the day. Any approved hand sanitizer will contain the required amount of approved alcohols, or other approved chemicals by Health Canada or the FDA.

This list of ingredients contains none of either of those. Now, onto the rest of the ingredients.

Water – Yes, it is required, that’s a no-brainer.

Witch Hazel – I love Witch Hazel for many things, but I do not find it useful in a Hand Sanitizer, as on it’s own it only contains mild antiseptic properties, and is only going to add more expense to your product.

Aloe – extract,  gel, spray? – Yes I have seen all of these listed.  Aloe can provide some softening and conditioning, but the vast differences in how it is purchased in the first place and what it is premixed with can be a problem and affect the product you are making.

Glycerine –  Provides some softening properties and can slow down the evaporation of the alcohol but provides no antimicrobial properties.

Essential Oils (Ti-Tree, Lavender, Eucalyptus, Oregano, Thyme, Lemon, Rosemary) – An obvious point to make here is that essential oils are not going to mix with the water.  They will float on top.  The sprayer pulls from the bottom, so no amount of essential oils or combination are going to be effective with “non-alcohol” sanitizers. Essential oils are a nice addition to any Hand Sanitizer if mixing with alcohol first,  to provide natural fragrance and some mild anti-septic properties.  However, as mentioned earlier, on their own, the percentage needed to provide any reasonable defense against microbes would be way too strong and would cause skin irritation.

Probiotics – Helps Your Insides, Not Your Outsides

Probiotics – This is useful internally, but not topically. Does not give antimicrobial properties.

Vitamin E – I still have no idea why people would add Vitamin E to a Hand Sanitizer. Pure Vitamin E is an oil soluble ingredient, while the bulk of any Hand Sanitizer will be water soluble. Adding Vitamin E to most Hand Sanitizers will result in the Vitamin E floating on top, rendering it useless. Or, if the water soluble Vitamin E has been used, it has been altered so much it wouldn’t have an natural benefit to the Hand Sanitizer even if it mixed in. Many big manufacturers will use this type of vitamin e which most smaller companies or individuals may not be able to obtain. This also adds extra expense to the product.


Now let’s take a look at some ingredient lists that were sent to us, and give them a rating of Fly, Fix or Fail:


Formula 1: Aloe Vera Gel, Witch Hazel, Tea Tree Oil, Vitamin E, Lemon Oil, Eucalyptus Oil, Rosemary Essential Oil.

Example 1

No alcohol. The vitamin E will not mix. The essential oils are all ones that may irritate the skin. I’m giving this a FAIL.


Formula 2: Hamamelis Virginiana (Witch Hazel), Aqua, Prunus Armeniaca (Apricot) Kernel Oil, Lactobacillus Ferment (Probiotics), Citrus (Lemon) Limonum Essential Oil, Citrus (Orange) Sinensis Essential Oil,Tea Tree Essential Oil, Pink Grapefruit Essential Oil, Cinnamon Essential Oil, Clove Bud Essential Oil, Eucalyptus Essential Oil.

Example 2

Once again no alcohol. The apricot kernel oil is only going to float on top. The probiotics will do nothing but add expense to the product, passed onto you the buyer. All of the essential oils are known skin irritants. Another resounding Fail.


Formula 3: 1 tablespoon aloe vera spray or aloe vera gel, 1 tablespoon alcohol-free witch hazel, ¼ teaspoon vitamin E oil, 30-36 drops of specific essential oil blend, or 30 drops to tea tree oil and 5-10 drops of lavender essential oil

Example 3

Here is another beauty from the social media school of making lousy products. This author cannot make up their mind on whether to use a aloe spray or a gel which are very different things. The witch hazel will be completely ineffective, so will the vitamin e. The essential oils will sit on top and the sprayer pulls from the bottom, so they will be useless. Yet another classic Fail.

So Many Essential Oils, So Little Expertise

I hope this provides some valuable insight into your shopping around for Sanitizers. They should be labelled clearly with the Drug Identification Number from Health Canada and you should be able to check the company’s information on Health Canada’s Website. This is not something to mess with. It has to work. If you are making your own sanitizer, consult reputable sources that are trained in effective product development.

You’re Welcome


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