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How to Thicken Hand Sanitizer | The Best Way

Hand sanitizers come in a gel, foam, or liquid form. But what if they are runny, or you want to make DIY hand sanitizer? How do you thicken it?

The best way to thicken hand sanitizer is with a thickening agent called Carbomer 940. It is what is usually used in store-bought hand sanitizers. An alternative thickener is xantham gum which is generally less expensive and easier to find, typically available at grocery stores in the baking aisle.

Carbomer 940 can be purchased online. Here is the exact brand on Amazon that I recommend. Just click the link to see the listing.

In this article, I will provide all the info you need to thicken watery hand sanitizer and then give you a quick DIY recipe so you can make your own.

Bottle of Hand Sanitizer Held in a Hand

The Best Way to Thicken Hand Sanitizer

First, let’s cover the methods to thicken or gel watery sanitizer.

Thickening hand sanitizer is not as easy as you might think, but it is doable. The best way to do it is by slowly adding Carbomer 940 to your liquid sanitizer through a sifting non-corrosive screen, such as a fine-mesh sifter like this one.

How to Thicken Hand Sanitizer With Carbomer 940

Carbomer 940 comes as a white powder in a plastic bag. As previously mentioned, I recommend getting it on Amazon. The reason it works so well is that it effectively absorbs water and increases in volume, forming a smooth and clear gel.

While adding the Carbomer, it is vital to stir the mixture vigorously. The stirring will continue for the next 2 hours. This way, you will get an even solution without any lumps in it.

For the hand sanitizer formula, you will need to use a ratio of 0.1 to 0.5%. Don’t worry; there should be directions that come with the thickener that will tell you how much to use.

The stirring of the liquid hand sanitizer will form a moving vortex in the water. You need to sprinkle the thickening agent through a sifting device directly into the moving water vortex.

The purpose behind a sifting device, such as a non-corrosive metallic screen and excessive stirring, is that you need to neutralize Carbomer 940 before using it. It will help the liquid to turn into a gel. The solution will clump if you do not add the thickener correctly. Control the incorporation of the Carbomer at all times.

As you may have already noticed, this isn’t an easy method. Even so, it is the most effective way of thickening the liquid hygiene product. Apart from the mixing procedure being a difficult one, Carbomer 940 is often quite expensive.

Alternative Thickening Method

Xanthan gum is another effective gelling and thickening agent that people often use in handmade hand sanitizers. It’s easier to find, much cheaper, and requires the same ratio usage when stabilizing and emulsifying the liquid solution.

This method of mixing it into liquid hand sanitizer is also an easier one.

To make xanthan gun sanitizer:

  • Put the watery sanitizer into a food blender and add xanthan gum into the solution.
  • Keep the blender working until all of the hand sanitizer ingredients are mixed. It should look like a smooth and even solution.
  • Let it sit for an hour to form a gel-like consistency.

Xanthan gum also looks like a white powder formed as a result of glucose and sucrose fermentation. It bonds ingredients together by suspending solid particles and stabilizing the emulsion. The best part is that people commonly use it as a food additive, so it’s safe to utilize.

The only reason why this method is second best is that the hand sanitizing gel that you get is slightly stickier to the touch than the commercial one or the one you get by adding Carbomer 940.

Pro Tip: Look for clear xanthan gum at the store. Otherwise, your sanitizer will be white rather than the transparent appearance we are familiar with in commercial sanitizers.

Other Alternative Thickeners

Other similar methods involve using Pectin or Guar as thickening agents. Both are great at hardening the liquid solutions of hand sanitizers. However, they are not very effective at stabilizing the ingredients used in handmade and commercial hand sanitizers.

Now, if this info seems a bit overwhelming, don’t worry; there is actually an easier way to make hand sanitizer.

Quick DIY Homemade Hand Sanitizer Recipe

The main ingredients in the hand sanitizer recipe are Isopropyl Alcohol, distilled water, and a thickener. The extra additives include skin conditioners, essential oils, and other fragrance alternatives.

From the information above, we have discovered that a good hand sanitizer needs enough alcohol to disinfect and destroy bacteria on the skin. A hand sanitizer also needs a gelling agent to thicken its consistency. It also needs distilled water to increase its effectiveness. Below is one of the easiest DIY recipes for handmade sanitizer.

You will need:

  • 2 cups of 99% Isopropyl Alcohol
  • 1/2 cup of distilled water
  • 1/2 cup of Aloe Vera gel (skin conditioner)
  • 0.24ml of a thickening agent (Carbomer 940 or xanthan gum)
  • 5-10 drops of essential oil (lavender or tea tree oil)


  1. Dissolve your thickener in distilled water.
  2. Add Aloe Vera gel to the mixture. It will keep the skin of your hands hydrated, as Aloe Vera gel is a fantastic skin conditioner that possesses antimicrobial properties.
  3. Add alcohol to the mixture so that your DIY hand sanitizer is capable of killing germs and fungi.
  4. Blend until you have an even and smooth solution with no lumps.
  5. Finish off by adding a few drops of essential oil for a more pleasant scent.

Can You Use Gelatin to Thicken Hand Sanitizer?

Gelatin cannot effectively be used to thicken hand sanitizer. This is because gelatin will not thicken alcohol effectively. And, since hand sanitizer must contain at least a 60% alcohol level to kill the germs, gelatin simply won’t work.

Also, for gelatin powder to start thickening a liquid solution, it must be heated. It’s not a secret that when alcohol is heated, it tends to evaporate. So, unless you are making an alcohol-free or low-concentration home sanitizer, gelatin isn’t an option for a thickening agent.

Will Cornstarch Thicken Hand Sanitizer?

Cornstarch is a great thickening agent for food and sauces and will emulsify and thicken a hand sanitizer if you follow a specific order of preparation. It’s best to first dissolve cornstarch in alcohol and then add the rest of the ingredients. It won’t work well to thicken watery sanitizer.

Other than that, the issue with cornstarch is that it will thicken a hand sanitizer, but it might take away the actual purpose of this hygiene product. Cornstarch will make a hand sanitizer sticky, and every time you apply it to your hands, there will be a residue left on your hand skin.

This sticky leftover is like an invitation to various germs and bacteria to settle on your hands and stick to your skin.

Why Is My Hand Sanitizer Watery?

Your hand sanitizer can be watery for several reasons:

  • A thickening agent wasn’t used.
  • The correct ratio of alcohol and thickener was not utilized.
  • An effective gelling agent was not used. This is often the culprit in homemade hand sanitizers.
  • Some of your ingredients may have expired.
  • The hand sanitizing solution was not sealed properly. When you expose the alcohol to the surrounding air, it evaporates.

Always check the quality of your ingredients before making a hand sanitizer. Make sure your alcohol has the needed percentage and concentration. You have to start with 95-99% alcohol, as it will drop to 60-65% during the preparation method. Keep the sanitizer in a cool place.

Is Watery Hand Sanitizer Still Effective?

The liquified hand sanitizer contains alcohol, so it still can be somewhat functional, even if it has expired. It’s essential to understand the reason why the substance is watery. If it’s a deal with an incorrect thickening agent, you can still use the sanitizer to kill germs.

However, if your hand sanitizer has expired, it’s best not to use it. It may be productive in killing bacteria, but that doesn’t mean it’s not dangerous for you. Your best decision would be to replace it.

How to Fix Watery Hand Sanitizer

You can fix your liquified hand sanitizer by adding and incorporating a small amount of thickening agent. In commercial hand sanitizers, the thickening agent is usually Carbomer 940. DIY recipes often use xantham gum.

Final Thoughts

The easiest way to clean your hands is with soap and water, but this well-known method is not always an option. Hand sanitizers will kill a considerable portion of germs and infectious agents on your hands. Nowadays, we can find them in most public places, including shopping malls, hospitals, and waiting rooms.

Whether your goal was to thicken watery sanitizer or make your own, I hope this article has given you the answers you need.

For more, check out How to Disinfect Wounds in the Wild | A Step-By-Step Guide.

Important Warning: Handmade sanitizers should be made only with the help of professionals that have the required expertise in making this hygiene product. You should follow proper safety measures. Make your handcrafted sanitizer only if there is no other option. The creation process requires making chemical reactions that can be dangerous for children, adults, and animals. Without proper knowledge and supervision, there is a high risk of injury.