Rubbing or isopropyl alcohol is a common and surprisingly versatile household item. From cleaning your blinds to getting out pesky permanent marker stains, read on for rubbing alcohol’s many uses — and some safety tips.
Here’s an overview of uses for rubbing alcohol in different settings (we’ll go into more detail below):
|Medical practices||Home health||Household cleaning|
|postoperative nausea||deodorant||cleaning dry erase board|
|surface disinfectant||evaporating water from ear||cleaning makeup brushes|
|liniment for muscle aches||cleaning sinks and chrome|
|shapeable ice packs||deodorizing shoes|
|disinfecting computer mouse and keyboard|
|disinfecting mobile phone|
|dissolving windshield frost|
|getting rid of fruit flies|
|creating a homemade disinfectant|
|preventing ring around the collar|
|removing hairspray from mirrors and tile|
|remove ink and permanent marker stains|
|cleaning stainless steel|
There’s a good reason rubbing alcohol is a part of most people’s first-aid kits. You can use it for the following medical purposes:
- Antiseptic. Rubbing alcohol is a natural bactericidal treatment. This means it kills bacteria but doesn’t necessarily prevent their growth. Rubbing alcohol can also kill fungus and viruses. However, it’s important a person uses a rubbing alcohol concentration of no less than a 50 percent solution. Otherwise, the solution may not effectively kill bacteria.
- Postoperative nausea. An evidence review found the time to 50% relief of postoperative nausea symptoms was faster when smelling rubbing alcohol compared to traditional medications used to treat nausea, such as ondansetron (Zofran). Smelling rubbing alcohol can quickly help relieve nausea, usually when you smell a soaked cotton pad or ball.
- Surface disinfectant. You can use alcohol as a disinfectant for items like scissors, thermometers, and other surfaces. However, alcohol isn’t always reliable enough as a hospital-grade disinfectant. It can also damage the protective coating on some items, such as plastic tiles or glasses lenses.
Most manufacturers sell rubbing alcohol in different formulation strengths, namely 70 or 90 percent rubbing alcohol. As a general rule, 70 percent rubbing alcohol is more friendly for use on your skin.
- Astringent. Alcohol is a natural astringent that can help to tighten pores and leave your skin feeling refreshed. Apply after cleansing your skin and before applying moisturizer or sunscreen. Unfortunately, rubbing alcohol can be very drying to skin so don’t use on any dry areas. Also, applying it after shaving or to open acne areas can cause a burning sensation.
- Deodorant. Rubbing alcohol can be a quick helper if you’re out of deodorant. You can spray directly on your armpit, but avoid after shaving since it can sting. Some people also mix essential oils such as lavender with the alcohol for a skin-soothing scent.
- Evaporating water from the ear. If you’ve got water in your ears from a pool, mix a solution of 1/2 teaspoon rubbing alcohol and 1/2 teaspoon white vinegar. Pour or place the solution using a dropper into your ear while your head is to the side. Allow the solution to drain out. Don’t apply it if you have an ear infection or tear in your eardrum as the solution could go deeper into your ear.
- Liniment for muscle aches. Applying a cloth soaked in rubbing alcohol on aching muscles can create a cooling sensation and stimulate blood flow to aching areas. Only apply to a small area. Putting alcohol on your entire body could cause harmful neurological effects because your skin can soak it in.
- Shapeable ice packs. Ice packs can become shapeable thanks to rubbing alcohol. To make, combine one part alcohol with three parts water in a well-sealed plastic bag and place in the freezer. Before using, wrap a soft cloth around the bag and apply to any areas that need icing.
- Never drink rubbing alcohol. Doing so can be deadly. You should only use it on your skin and never let children use it without supervision. Also, never use rubbing alcohol topically to reduce fever — it’s ineffective and dangerous to do so.
- Rubbing alcohol is also highly flammable, so never use it near an open flame or high heat.
- If you use rubbing alcohol and have signs of an allergic reaction, such as problems breathing, hives, facial swelling, or swelling of your lips, tongue, or throat, call 911 (or your local emergency number) and seek emergency medical attention.
Alcohol has multiple uses in your home, from polishing to disinfecting. Grab a bottle and check the following household to-dos off your list.
- Cleaning blinds. Wrap an alcohol-soaked washcloth around a spatula, place a rubber band around the cloth, and clean between the slats of blinds. This can be a quick and easy to way get these hard-to-clean blinds clean.
- Cleaning dry erase boards. You’ll need at least a 90 percent rubbing alcohol solution to truly remove dry erase marks. You can put the solution into a spray bottle or apply some on a washcloth or paper towel to clean the board.
- Cleaning makeup brushes. You can harness alcohol’s disinfectant properties to clean your makeup brushes. Pour some rubbing alcohol into a small cup and dip your makeup brush into the cup, swirling it around for a few seconds. Rinse the brush with lukewarm water and lay flat on a towel to dry.
- Cleaning sinks and chrome. Rubbing alcohol can make these surfaces clean and shiny again. Pour the alcohol on a soft cloth and clean. You don’t have to follow up with water to rinse because the alcohol will evaporate.
- Deodorizing shoes. If your shoes are starting to smell a little strong, spraying on rubbing alcohol can help. Setting them out in the sun to fully dry can further aid the alcohol in killing bacteria.
- Disinfecting computer mouse and keyboard. Using a 90 percent or greater rubbing alcohol can make for a quickly evaporating cleaner for your electronics. Use an alcohol-soaked cotton swab or damp alcohol-soaked microfiber cloth to clean your computer’s keyboard and mouse.
- Disinfecting mobile phone. From skin oils to makeup, there are lots of things that can dirty up your phone. Use an alcohol pad or wipe to clean and disinfect.
- Dissolving windshield frost. You can mix up a quick defrosting solution by combining one part water and two parts 70 percent rubbing alcohol in a spray bottle. Spraying this on the windshield will make the frost easier to remove.
- Getting rid of fruit flies. Spraying fruit flies with rubbing alcohol will kill them almost on contact. However, don’t aim toward any fruit as rubbing alcohol can cause fruit to spoil.
- Creating homemade disinfectant. You can clean most surfaces by spraying or wiping rubbing alcohol on them. However, don’t apply alcohol to permeable materials like quartz and granite. Plastic laminate and sealed marble are fine.
- Cleaning jewelry. If your rings, bracelets, and other jewelry have lost their luster, soaking them in rubbing alcohol can help. Wipe them off with a clean cloth afterward to achieve a super shine.
- Preventing ring around the collar. Wiping your neck with a rubbing alcohol-soaked cotton pad or ball can help you keep your shirts cleaner longer.
- Refreshing sponges. Soaking kitchen sponges in rubbing alcohol can help to disinfect them so they’re ready for use. This money-saving trick can give your sponges new life.
- Removing hairspray from mirrors and tile. Sticky hairspray can cloud up your mirrors and tiles. Soak or spray alcohol on a soft cloth and use to achieve a crystal-clear surface.
- Removing ink and permanent marker stains. You can give pesky stains the boot by soaking a stained area in rubbing alcohol for several minutes. Follow this up by washing the garment.
- Removing stickers. If your little one went a little overboard with the stickers, try saturating the sticker with rubbing alcohol. Wait 10 minutes and you should be able to more easily wipe the sticker away.
- Cleaning stainless steel. Alcohol can make an excellent stainless steel cleaner by removing water spots and disinfecting the surface. Use a damp alcohol-soaked microfiber towel to clean any stainless steel in your home.
Despite what the internet might say, the following aren’t great uses for rubbing alcohol.
- Acne. Use rubbing alcohol with caution on acne-prone skin. The rubbing alcohol can be very drying, which could cause your skin to overproduce oil and worsen blemishes. If you have any open skin areas, the rubbing alcohol could also burn when applied.
- Fever. Parents used to use rubbing alcohol applied to a child’s skin to give off a cooling sensation. However, this method is potentially dangerous because a child’s skin can absorb the alcohol and become toxic. Even adults can have neurological and heart problems from applying alcohol-soaked towels to bare skin.
- Baths. Alcohol baths are dangerous for the same reason as applying alcohol to the skin for fevers. The body may absorb the alcohol and cause toxic symptoms.
- Lice. Although rubbing alcohol can help to kill lice, it can also cause chemical burns on the scalp. Avoid this method in favor of more proven treatments, such as medicated lice shampoos.
If you aren’t sure if alcohol is safe for you to use, ask your doctor or other healthcare provider.
Rubbing alcohol has many uses in your home, including cleaning and disinfectant purposes. You can also take advantage of its antiseptic and cooling purposes on the skin in small amounts.
Remember to not drink it, use it on children, or use it near open flames.