- Witch hazel does not kill germs, including most viruses and bacteria.
- Natural products like witch hazel rarely make for effective disinfectants, and will not protect you against the coronavirus.
- To kill germs and prevent the spread of illness, you should wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds, and disinfect surfaces using a solution that contains either alcohol,bleach, or hydrogen peroxide.
- This article was medically reviewed by Tania Elliott, MD, who specialises in infectious diseases related to allergies and immunology for internal medicine at NYU Langone Health.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
When it comes to disinfection, though, witch hazel is a poor choice. Here’s what you need to know about cleaning products that contain witch hazel, and why they don’t necessarily stack up.
Witch hazel isn’t likely to kill germs
There’s insufficient research to say that witch hazel can kill bacteria or viruses, says Thomas Russo, MD, professor and chief of the division of infectious disease at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University at Buffalo.
“There is a very minimal scientific literature that [witch hazel] extraction may have some anti-infection properties,” he says.
Witch hazel contains a chemical called hamamelitannin, which is related to the broader group of plant astringents called tannins. An astringent causes the body’s tissue to constrict and reduce inflammation. The tannins in witch hazel give it astringent properties, which is why it can be used to alleviate irritation from bug bites and minor cuts or scrapes.
In addition, hamamelitannin has been shown to reduce the biofilm of bacteria, hindering its ability to collect on a surface. A2014 study also found that the tannins in witch hazel were effective against viral diseases like the human papillomavirus (HPV) and avian influenza A.
But overall, there’s not enough research to suggest that witch hazel should be used as an effective disinfectant from germs – which is especially pertinent in the COVID-19 outbreak.
Though witch hazel is sometimes mentioned in do-it-yourself hand sanitizers or other natural disinfectants, disease experts say they won’t help sanitize your hands enough to prevent the spread of illness.
“With coronavirus, there’s absolutely no reason to use any sort of product on your skin other than regular soap and water, or if you have one of those hand alcohol based hand sanitizers,” Russo says. “I would not recommend using witch hazel at all on yourself. I would use soap and water.”
Natural products rarely make effective disinfectants
The main benefit to witch hazel is that it’s an astringent, while the minimal antibacterial properties are a weaker benefit. You’d probably have better luck using witch hazel for it’s more popular purposes – helping to reduce minor bleeding, soothing mild skin irritation, and treating the itching and burning from hemorrhoids.
Some recipes call for witch hazel along with vodka or aloe vera to provide a natural at-home disinfectant. As mentioned previously, though, it’s unlikely that the witch hazel concoction would be an effective disinfectant.
Instead, Russo endorses more tried-and-true methods to prevent the spread of germs. “My recommendation would be 0.1% bleach or 0.5% hydrogen peroxide. Those are compounds that have been tested that we know inactivates this virus,” he says.
Russo encourages people to follow social distancing, as respiratory droplets from an infected person’s coughs or sneezes mainly spread the coronavirus. He also recommends practicing good hand hygiene as well as disinfecting high-touch surfaces such as phones, door knobs, and keyboards, with reliably anti-microbial items like 70% alcohol-based solutions.
However, some prefer to use only natural products to clean their home – instead of chemicals – due to health and environmental reasons. People can also buy the natural ingredients and produce their own disinfectants in bulk, saving money in the long run.
Similarly, the tannins in witch hazel are also thought to help disinfect, but the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention still recommends using EPA-registered disinfectants because they have been shown to effectively kill viruses like COVID-19. Witch hazel is not on that list.
If you’re a fan of natural cleaners and ordinarily prefer not to use the recommended, effective disinfectants, Russo says changing your habits for just this moment in time could lead to public good.
Related stories about sanitation and keeping clean:
- How do viruses spread and how to protect yourself against infection
- Does bleach kill germs? Yes, but you need to let it sit for 10 minutes
- What temperature kills germs? How to use heat properly to get rid of bacteria and viruses
- Does UV light kill germs? Getting an at-home sanitizer may be worth it
- Does alcohol kill germs? Yes, as long as the solution is strong enough
- Does vinegar kill germs? It isn’t the best disinfectant for viruses
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