Everyday Activism: DIY Purell

January 30th, 2007 4:19 pm by Kelly Garbato

According to Michael Greger, Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture at The Humane Society of the United States and M.D. (and author of Bird Flu, which I recently reviewed here), people are, shall we say, quite lax when it comes to washing their hands. Given that handwashing is one of the most effective ways to protect against infectious diseases such as Ebola and – yes! – avian influenza, findings such as these

Ninety-five percent say they wash their hands after using a public toilet, yet the American Society for Microbiology published a survey of almost 8,000 people across five U.S. cities and found the true number to be only about two-thirds. Chicago topped the list at 83%; in New York City, the actual number fell to less than half.

are a wee bit problematic.

The experts say that:

Proper hand washing, according to the director of clinical microbiology at Mount Sinai, involves lathering with plenty of soap for 20 to 30 seconds (about the time it takes to sing the “alphabet song” three times at a fast tempo), rinsing, and then repeating for another 20 to 30 seconds. CDC guidelines are similar, with additional reminders to wash between fingers and under the nails, and to soap into the creases around knuckles.

and:

At a minimum, experts advise, hands should be washed after every cough, every sneeze, and every time we shake hands with anyone. These simple recommendations may decrease the number of colds we get every year, the number of work days we miss, and the number of days we are laid up in bed. During a pandemic, they may even save your life.

As a true-green enviro, that strikes me as a crazy amount of water to be running through every day.

According to the EPA, standard faucets use 3 to 5 gallons of water per minute, while more efficient kitchen and bathroom faucets get as low as 2 gallons/minute. Using the best-case “standard” numbers, that amounts to 3 gallons of water every time you wash your hands correctly. Now multiple that by x (the number of times you use the restroom per day + the number of hands you shake + the number of times you sneeze and/or cough + the number of times you handle food), and….let’s just say, that’s quite a bit of washing. The average Jane visits the Womyns room around six to eight times a day; add to that the bare minimum of three meals handled a day, and you’ve got 27 to 33 gallons and counting.

Aside from water usage (waste-age?), handwashing with soap and water is also less effective than OTC hand sanitizers – and is rougher on your skin:

Products containing between 60% and 80% alcohol were found more effective than soap in every scientific study available for review. Enveloped viruses such as influenza are especially susceptible to topical alcohol sanitizers. Alcohol solutions not only were found to be more effective at eliminating germs, but require less time and cause less irritation than hand washing. Hand washing still has a place when hands are dirty or visibly contaminated with bodily fluids like respiratory secretions or blood, but for routine decontamination, alcohol-based products are the preferred method for hand sanitation.

Which brings me to the crux of today’s Everyday Activism tip. When possible, forgo traditional soap and water handwashing in favor of hand sanitizer. It uses less water (good for the environment!) and is actually more effective in cleaning your hands (good for you!).

Though you can purchase ready-made sanitizers (such as Purell) at most any grocery store, DIY can save you money and eliminate all that extra packaging.

Dr. Greger, a huge fan of homemade sanitizers and general cleanliness, offers this recipe for concerned citizens:

Recipe for Alcohol Sanitizer Rub

4 cups 70% rubbing (isopropyl) alcohol
4 teaspoons of glycerin

Mix to make approximately one quart (liter).

The glycerin acts as a humectant, or moisturizer.2665 Other moisturizers can be used, but glycerin is nontoxic, cheap, nonallergenic, and widely available. Vegetable glycerin can typically be found in natural food stores or online, and bulk rubbing alcohol can be found in drug stores in convenient 32-ounce (4-cup) bottles.

An added bonus: in the event of a pandemic, you’re not totally shit outta luck when Walgreens flies through their Purell stock in 24 hours flat.

Even better bonus:

Instead of using isopropyl alcohol, which can be acutely toxic if ingested, one can substitute a 140-proof scotch whisky. An additional advantage to using booze is that stockpiled liquor, along with cigarettes, gasoline, water, guns, canned vegetables and, oddly, cosmetics, has historically been among the most highly valued barter items in crisis situations.

Now that’s what I’m talkin’ ’bout.

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