Does Witch Hazel Disinfect? Experts Explain Why It Can’t Kill Germs
Witch hazel can feel like a home solution for everything – after all, chances are this plant-based liquid has always been in your medicine cabinet. It is often distilled in an ointment or a concentrated extract that can be used in different ways. It is often an ingredient of choice in skincare products designed to relieve itchy skin and can be used topically for problems like mosquito bites, and it can even be found in products designed to relieve body pain. But it is not a magic elixir, unfortunately, and it cannot be used to properly disinfect a surface to kill germs, including viruses and bacteria.
- Witch hazel often comes from skincare solutions and topical pain treatments.
- Although it can be used in disinfectants or hand sanitizers, witch hazel is not intended to be used as a disinfectant.
- Experts say astringents like witch hazel are not the same as the other household cleaners you can use right now.
As deep cleaning surfaces around the home became a top priority during the COVID-19 pandemic, people wondered if they could use non-chemical cleaners to disinfect and disinfect surfaces, including witch hazel, which is often included in local recipes for hydroalcoholic gel. But the fact that witch hazel is combined with a hand sanitizer does not mean that it is a disinfectant – it is mainly included for its holistic health benefits.
What is witch hazel?
You might be surprised to learn that witch hazel is actually a plant. Most of the wellness aisle products are made from tannins in its leaves and bark, often processed into topical treatments found in the aisle of the pharmacy. Although it is usually applied to the outermost layer of the skin to relieve itching and reduce swelling, it is also found in other topical and oral medications. It is an astringent, which means that witch hazel has a chemical composition that allows it to shrink and tighten body tissue – which is why it is often used to treat inflammation.
Due to this natural anti-inflammatory chemical composition, some products can mix witch hazel with alcohol and other ingredients to cleanse and soothe the skin. You can find recipes online that call witch hazel in cleansers or disinfectants, especially if they are intended to be applied to 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 that suggests the tannins found in witch hazel may target bacteria associated with avian flu and human papillomavirus (this 2014 study published in PLoS ONE shared this conclusion). But witch hazel should not be used to disinfect surfaces, and witch hazel alone is not a product approved by the Environmental Protection Agency approved to disinfect surfaces.
The EPA has maintained lists of disinfectants approved for killing germs, having recently launched a list of cleaners that have been shown to neutralize the virus that causes the development of COVID-19. Witch hazel alone is not on any of these lists: Amesh A. Adalja, M.D., principal investigator at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, says Prevention that there is no “confirmatory evidence” that witch hazel is as effective as a true antiseptic.
Are there disinfectants that can be made at home?
William Schaffner, MD, medical director of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, explains that the best DIY remedies for a true disinfectant are bleach and water, or hydrogen peroxide, and isopropyl alcohol . Anyone can effectively kill the germs associated with the new coronavirus. Disinfection of hard, non-porous surfaces – from kitchen counters to doorknobs and even toilets – can be achieved if you use the following mixtures.
- You can mix 4 teaspoons of chlorine bleach with 1 liter of water, applying the mixture directly to the surface. You will need to let it sit for at least five minutes before wiping it down so the germs are properly neutralized. Also note that the bleach and water solution should be refreshed with each use.
- If you have hydrogen peroxide, just spread it on the surface of the question directly from the bottle. Let it sit for at least a minute before wiping it off.
- To use rubbing alcohol, first make sure it is 70% isopropyl rubbing alcohol. You can apply it directly and leave it wet for at least 30 seconds.