Rubbing Alcohol Uses: 11 Benefits for Health and the Home

Medically Reviewed By Carissa Stephens, R.N., CCRN, CPN

Rubbing alcohol can be useful for a wide variety of tasks. These can include both health-related uses and uses in the home. However, not all uses of rubbing alcohol are effective or safe for your health. Rubbing alcohol is a household chemical that is widely available. Many people may already have it in their home. It is a mixture of water and an alcohol known as isopropyl alcohol, or isopropanol. Commonly, rubbing alcohols consist of 70% isopropyl alcohol, although this exact percentage can vary.

Rubbing alcohol uses include minor healthcare remedies and general household cleaning.

This article will discuss the health and home-related uses of rubbing alcohol, including their safety and effectiveness. It will also explain the potential risks of rubbing alcohol and when not to use it.

Health care uses for rubbing alcohol

A square alcohol wipe falls out of its packet on a light blue background.
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Rubbing alcohol can be used to treat mild conditions and for routine self-care. These uses can include:

Hand sanitizing

Some hand sanitizers contain isopropyl alcohol. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Trusted Source Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Governmental authority Go to source suggest that these can be effective for removing certain types of germs when soap and water are not available.

To be effective, alcohol-based hand sanitizers should contain 60% Trusted Source Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Governmental authority Go to source alcohol or more. Apply enough product to cover all surfaces of the hands, then rub the hands together until the product dries. Wiping or rinsing the hands before they dry can remove the sanitizer before it has time to work.

Rapid nausea relief

Evidence suggests that inhaling rubbing alcohol may help to relieve feelings of nausea.

A 2018 review suggests that using rubbing alcohol vapor in aromatherapy may offer fast-acting, short-term relief from nausea. Results also indicated that rubbing alcohol inhalation reduced people’s need to take anti-nausea drugs.

However, inhaling too much alcohol can be dangerous and have serious health impacts. This is especially true with large amounts or high concentrations.

Do not use rubbing alcohol for aromatherapy without first seeking guidance from a medical professional.

Managing tick bites

The CDC recommends Trusted Source Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Governmental authority Go to source using rubbing alcohol after a tick bite. It can be useful for both the treatment of tick bites and the disposal of live ticks.

Start by removing a tick with clean tweezers. Then, clean the site of the bite and your hands with rubbing alcohol or soap and water. Dispose of the tick by placing it in rubbing alcohol or flushing it down the toilet.

Contact your doctor if you develop symptoms of a rash or fever several weeks after removing a tick. Make sure to inform them of the bite.

Learn more about how to safely remove a tick from the skin.

Treating wounds, bites, and piercings

Many people use rubbing alcohol to clean wounds and broken skin such as from cuts, bites, and piercings.

Some medical professionals may also use products containing alcohol, such as alcohol pads, on the skin. This is in addition to the CDC’s recommendation for using rubbing alcohol on tick bites.

In certain cases, clinicians may recommend against using rubbing alcohol on the skin. These can include on injuries or open wounds. This is because rubbing alcohol can have the following effects:

  • It may slow skin healing and kill new healthy cell growth.
  • It may not kill all infectious pathogens.
  • It can sting.
  • It may dry out the skin.
  • It may worsen rashes such as from eczema.

However, alcohol-based sanitizers may still be useful in some cases. This is especially Trusted Source Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Governmental authority Go to source true when other options such as soap and water are not available.

Treating swimmer’s ear

“Swimmer’s ear”, or otitis externa, refers to when the ear canal becomes inflamed. This can be due to infection or irritation such as from water or allergens.

You may be able to use rubbing alcohol as a home remedy for swimmer’s ear. It may be especially helpful if you experience recurring episodes.

To treat swimmer’s ear with rubbing alcohol, start by mixing a solution of one part rubbing alcohol to one part vinegar. Then, apply a few drops of the mixture to the affected ear.

Contact your doctor if your symptoms do not improve.

Making ice packs

Ice packs can be useful for reducing swelling, pain, and decreasing minor bleeding.

If you do not have access to a ready-made ice pack, you can make one yourself using rubbing alcohol. Start by making a rubbing alcohol mixture and freezing it. This mixture can consist of either of the following:

  • 2 cups water and 1 cup 70% rubbing alcohol
  • 2 cups water, 1 cup rubbing alcohol, and 2 tbsp. salt

To make an ice pack, add the mixture to a sealable bag and do the following:

  1. Press the bag gently to release as much air as possible before sealing.
  2. Place the bag inside a second sealable bag to avoid leaks.
  3. Place your new pack in the freezer until the mixture thickens — up to 12 hours. Your ice pack is then ready for use.

Always wrap an ice pack in a cloth or towel before applying it to bare skin. Direct contact with frozen items and very cold alcohol can cause cold burns or frostbite.

Alleviating aches

Some products that aim to relieve muscle aches contain rubbing alcohol and essential oils such as wintergreen. This is because rubbing alcohol may produce a cooling sensation as it evaporates from the skin.

However, it is important to note that applying rubbing alcohol to the skin can cause irritation for some people.

Prioritize medical care from a doctor where possible

It is always best to seek care from a licensed medical professional to examine and treat your symptoms.

A doctor may be able to more accurately diagnose your symptoms and recommend the most appropriate treatment.

Additionally, self-treating persistent symptoms may delay the detection and treatment of an underlying condition if one is present.

Household uses for rubbing alcohol

In addition to health-related benefits, rubbing alcohol can be useful for household tasks such as general cleaning. These uses can include:

Disinfecting surfaces

You can use rubbing alcohol as a surface disinfectant. The CDC notes that rubbing alcohol can kill Trusted Source Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Governmental authority Go to source some types of bacteria, fungi, and viruses.

Rubbing alcohol can also kill SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes coronavirus. Research from a 2021 study suggests that rubbing alcohol with an isopropyl alcohol concentration of 70–80% Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source was “highly effective” against human coronaviruses. In the study, investigators observed a 99.99% reduction of infectious virus on tested tile and ceramic.

Rubbing alcohol may also help prevent the growth of mold and mildew.

It is important to note that isopropyl alcohol does not protect against some types of germs, including bacterial spores.

Cleaning tools and personal items

Due to rubbing alcohol’s disinfectant properties, it may be useful for sanitizing general use items. These can include:

  • electronic devices, including screens and keyboards
  • jewelry
  • sponges and textiles
  • brushes
  • hard surfaces

Removing stains and odors

Some people use rubbing alcohol to both deodorize and sanitize clothes, shoes, and other textiles. This is due to alcohol’s bactericidal, virucidal, and fungicidal properties.

Additionally, rubbing alcohol may be able to remove stains and residues such as from:

  • sticker adhesive
  • shoe polish
  • ink
  • wine
  • other resinous or sticky stains such as wax

Treating houseplant pest infestations

Houseplants can sometimes experience infestations from pests such as aphids, whiteflies, and mites.

You can use a dilution of rubbing alcohol to remove insects and manage pests in your home. To do this, make a mixture of 1 part rubbing alcohol to 9 parts water. Dip a cotton swab in the solution and use it to wipe off the pests. Make sure to avoid direct contact with the plant to avoid burning the leaves.

When not to use rubbing alcohol

Some popular or folk remedies for certain health conditions involve the use of rubbing alcohol. However, some of these remedies may be inappropriate or even dangerous due to the properties of isopropyl alcohol.

Do not use rubbing alcohol for the following conditions and situations:

  • acne
  • fever or overheating
  • medical and surgical equipment
  • internal use or drinking

Seek immediate medical care or call 911 for anyone who has drunk rubbing alcohol.

Safety and risks

While rubbing alcohol can have many uses, using alcohol inappropriately can be dangerous.

Harmful or dangerous effects of rubbing alcohol can include:

Isopropyl alcohol, the type found in rubbing alcohol, is different from ethanol or ethyl alcohol, the type found in alcoholic drinks. Isopropyl alcohol is not safe for drinking and can quickly lead to poisoning. In some cases, it can even be fatal.

Alcohol can also be flammable, meaning it can catch or spread fire rapidly.

Additionally, while it may otherwise be safe, cleaning certain surfaces with rubbing alcohol may damage them. For advice on how to clean a specific item, read the label or check with the manufacturer.

How to use rubbing alcohol safely

Measures you can take to help keep yourself and others safe while using rubbing alcohol include:

  • wearing gloves
  • only using rubbing alcohol in areas with good ventilation
  • avoiding mixing different chemicals together
  • securely storing all chemicals and cleaning products, especially if there are children present
  • labeling products clearly and accurately
  • storing alcohol and products containing alcohol at room temperature and away from sources of light and heat
  • supervising children when using hand sanitizers or products containing alcohol
  • avoiding excessive contact with the skin, and using sparingly or as instructed by the product label when needed

Summary

Rubbing alcohol is a common household product that can have many uses for both self-care and home maintenance. Uses include alleviating aches and sanitizing hands and tick bites when soap and water are not available. It can also be used to disinfect household items, including against COVID-19.

However, some popular uses may be unsafe as alcohol can be poisonous and cause skin irritation.

Only use rubbing alcohol in well-ventilated areas, and avoid prolonged contact with the skin. Store rubbing alcohol away from heat and light, and keep it out of reach of children.

If you have persistent symptoms, contact a doctor before continuing any  self-treatment.

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Medical Reviewer: Carissa Stephens, R.N., CCRN, CPN
Last Review Date: 2022 Aug 30
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.