Isopropyl alcohol, commonly known as rubbing alcohol, is a common household item. It’s used for a variety of home cleaning and home health tasks, including treating your ears.
Three ear conditions that rubbing alcohol may be safely used for are:
Keep reading to learn how to safely use rubbing alcohol in your ears and when to see a doctor.
Swimmer’s ear (otitis externa) is an outer ear infection that’s commonly caused by water that stays in your ear after swimming or other water-related activities.
Water that remains in your outer ear canal, which extends from the outside of your ear to your eardrum, creates a moist environment that promotes the growth of bacteria.
According to the Mayo Clinic, swimmer’s ear can also be caused by damaging the thin skin in your ear canal by putting cotton swabs, fingers, or other objects in your ear.
Symptoms of swimmer’s ear can include:
- itchiness in your ear canal
- redness inside your ear
- drainage of clear, odorless fluid
In many cases, swimmer’s ear is treated with over-the-counter (OTC) drops that are typically made up of isopropyl alcohol and glycerin. These drops work to help your ear dry out faster, not fight the infection. Be sure to follow the use instructions on the label.
If you don’t have a punctured eardrum, you can make your own homemade ear drops to use before and after swimming. This solution can help dry out your ears and discourage the growth of bacteria.
To make this solution, do the following:
- Mix equal parts rubbing alcohol and white vinegar.
- Place approximately 1 teaspoon (5 milliliters) of the solution into one ear and let it drain back out. Repeat for the other ear.
A doctor will most likely prescribe ear drops that combine an antibiotic or acetic acid to kill bacteria. To calm inflammation, they may also prescribe a corticosteroid.
If a doctor diagnoses the cause as a fungal infection rather than a bacterial infection, they may also prescribe ear drops with an antifungal.
An ear infection is a reason for a doctor’s visit. According to the Mayo Clinic, ear infection symptoms may include:
- ear discomfort
- difficulty hearing
- fluid drainage from the ear
Although most ear infections clear up on their own in a couple of weeks, some practitioners of natural healing suggest treating an outer ear infection with a mixture of equal parts rubbing alcohol and apple cider vinegar (ACV).
This home remedy is based on the antimicrobial (kills microorganisms) and antibacterial (kills bacteria) properties of rubbing alcohol and ACV.
If you have any symptoms of an ear infection, see a doctor for a full diagnosis before putting anything, including rubbing alcohol or apple cider vinegar, in your ear.
Don’t use this remedy if you:
- think you have a middle ear infection
- have drainage from your ear
Ear flushing, also called ear irrigation, is a method of removing excess earwax or foreign materials from your ear. The procedure is typically performed by a doctor.
According to Stanford Medicine, ear flushing solution is a mixture of:
- rubbing alcohol
- white vinegar
- boric acid
- kills bacteria and fungi in your ear
- dries your ear
- flushes wax and debris out of your ear
See a doctor if you think you may need an ear flushing. Ear flushings may include short-lasting side effects, such as:
Rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol) is commonly used as an ingredient in:
- OTC and home remedies for preventing and treating swimmer’s ear
- home remedies for outer ear infections
- ear flushing (ear irrigation) solutions
See a doctor if you’re experiencing the symptoms of an ear condition, such as:
- ear canal discomfort
- ear canal itching
- fluid drainage from your ear
- ear canal blockage from earwax or foreign materials