- Witch hazel is often sourced for skincare solutions and topical treatments for pain.
- While it may be used in sanitizing products or hand sanitizers, witch hazel is not meant to be used as a disinfectant.
- Experts say that astringents like witch hazel aren’t the same as other household cleaners you can use right now.
Witch hazel can feel like a domestic solution for everything — after all, there’s a good chance that this plant-derived liquid has always been in your medicine cabinet. It’s often distilled into an ointment or a concentrated extract that can be used in many different ways. It’s often a prime ingredient in skincare products that are designed to relieve itchy skin and can be used topically for issues like mosquito bites, and it may even be found in products designed to alleviate body pain. But it’s not a magical elixir, unfortunately, and it cannot be used to properly disinfect a surface to kill germs, including viral bacteria.
As deep-cleaning surfaces around the home have become a top priority during the COVID-19 pandemic, people have been wondering if they can use non-chemical cleaners to sanitize and disinfect surfaces, including witch hazel, which is often included in homegrown recipes for hand sanitizer. But the fact that witch hazel is associated with hand sanitizer doesn’t mean it’s a disinfectant — it’s mostly included for its holistic health benefits.
What is witch hazel?
You might be surprised to learn that witch hazel is actually a plant. Most products in the wellness aisle are made from tannins found within its leaves and bark, often processed into topical treatments that you find in the pharmacy aisle. While it’s generally applied to the outermost layer of skin to relieve itching and reduce swelling, it’s also found within other topical and oral medicines. It’s an astringent, which means witch hazel has a chemical makeup that allows it to actually shrink and constrict body tissue — that’s why it’s often used to treat inflammation.
Because of this natural anti-inflammatory chemical composition, there are some products that may mix witch hazel with alcohol and other ingredients to cleanse and soothe skin. You may come across recipes online that call for witch hazel in cleansers or sanitizing agents, especially if it’s meant to be applied on the skin.
Does witch hazel disinfect surfaces?
If you come across websites that list witch hazel as a disinfectant, it may be because there is very limited research which suggests tannins found within witch hazel could target bacteria associated with the avian flu and human papillomavirus (this 2014 study published in PLoS ONE shared this finding). But witch hazel should not be used to disinfect surfaces, and witch hazel alone is not an Environmental Protection Agency-approved product approved to disinfect surfaces.
The EPA has maintained lists with approved disinfectants for killing germs, having also recently launched a list of cleaners that have been shown to neutralize the virus that causes people to develop COVID-19. Witch hazel alone is on neither of these lists: Amesh A. Adalja, M.D., a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, tells Prevention that there isn’t any “confirmatory evidence” that witch hazel is as effective as a true antiseptic.
Are there any disinfectants that can be made at home?
William Schaffner, M.D., the medical director for the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, says the best DIY remedies for a true disinfectant are bleach and water, or hydrogen peroxide, as well as isopropyl alcohol. All can effectively neutralize germs associated with the novel coronavirus. Disinfecting hard, nonporous surfaces — from kitchen countertops to door knobs and even toilets — can be achieved if you use the following mixtures.
- You can mix 4 teaspoons of chlorine-based bleach with 1-quart of water, applying the mixture directly to the surface. You’ll need to let it sit for at least five minutes before you wipe it off in order for germs to be appropriately neutralized. Also note that bleach-and-water solution needs to be made fresh each time you use it.
- If you have hydrogen peroxide, simply spread it on the surface of question straight from the bottle. Let it set for at least one minute before wiping away.
- To use rubbing alcohol, first make sure it’s 70% Isopropyl rubbing alcohol. You can apply this directly and leave it wet for at least 30 seconds.