How NOT to Use Rubbing Alcohol

There's nothing like putting multi-taskers to work when it comes to cleaning efficiently (and cheaply!). Common first-aid supplies, such as rubbing alcohol, can pack a powerful punch, but that doesn't mean they're without danger. Because it is a germicide and is effective in killing the influenza virus, rubbing alcohol is a good disinfectant to have on hand during the germ-infested winter months. However, because of its unique chemical properties, using alcohol around the house necessitates extra caution.

The following are some things you should never do.

1. Do not combine rubbing alcohol and bleach.

There are some chemical combinations you should avoid at all costs, and one of them is bleach and alcohol. When rubbing alcohol is mixed with bleach, it produces chloroform, a toxic compound that emits toxic and corrosive fumes. Inhaling chloroform, according to the CDC, can cause serious problems with the central nervous system, liver, and kidneys, as well as irritate the skin, lungs, and eyes and cause nausea and dizziness.

2. Avoid using rubbing alcohol near open flames or while smoking.

Putting alcohol and fire together? This is not a risk you want to take. Because of the obvious alcohol content, rubbing alcohol is highly flammable, so avoid using it near smoking or any open flames in your home. So, before using any alcohol-based cleaning products, make sure to extinguish all of your candles.

3. Use rubbing alcohol only in well-ventilated areas.

Similarly, because isopropyl alcohol is a volatile chemical (that is, it evaporates quickly), it emits potentially harmful fumes. When cleaning your home with alcohol, keep your windows open to keep the area as well-ventilated as possible.

4. Rubbing alcohol should not be used to clean certain surfaces.

While rubbing alcohol is a powerful disinfectant on counters, toilets, and even your laptop or cell phone — powerful enough to kill E.coli bacteria and the flu virus — there are some surfaces you should avoid sterilizing with it.

  • Finished surfaces: Because rubbing alcohol contains ethanol, it is a solvent, and it can literally liquify varnishes or finishes, causing major damage to your furniture or other surfaces in your home. Rubbing alcohol should not be used on painted, shellacked, lacquered, or varnished surfaces, including treated wood.
  • Certain fabrics: Isopropyl alcohol can be an excellent stain remover on certain fabrics, removing all traces of difficult stains such as ink, grass, grease, or sap. While your carpet will appreciate an isopropyl alcohol treatment, keep in mind that some fabrics do not tolerate alcohol. Avoid delicate or synthetic materials such as acetate, rayon, wool, and silk.

When disinfecting with alcohol, it's critical not to dilute it beyond what the CDC recommends for killing germs. According to the CDC, the effectiveness of alcohol in killing germs "drops sharply when diluted below 50% concentration," and the optimal concentration for killing bacteria is between 60 and 90%.

5. Rubbing alcohol should not be used on certain wounds or skin conditions.

Because of its antiseptic properties, doctors commonly sterilize medical equipment with isopropyl alcohol, and you can use it to sanitize your tweezers before removing a splinter or cleaning a small cut on your skin. However, using large amounts of isopropyl alcohol or covering a large area of your skin with it can result in serious skin damage. Rubbing alcohol should not be used to clean wounds or other more serious injuries because it can cause further skin irritation and delay healing. Avoid using it on sensitive skin, such as sunburned, dry, or otherwise irritated skin.

And if you're thinking about making your own hand sanitizer with rubbing alcohol, reconsider.

6. It should not be consumed.

Some first-aid kit staples, such as hydrogen peroxide, are safe to use internally in small amounts. Not so with rubbing alcohol. Even in small amounts, rubbing alcohol is toxic when consumed, according to the National Capital Poison Center. Keep your alcohol, like any other cleaning supply, out of the reach of children, and never put rubbing alcohol in a glass or another container, as it can easily be mistaken for water.


There are, however, good reasons to keep a bottle of alcohol dusted off and ready to help with cleaning, disinfecting, and other tasks.


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