You probably have an old bottle of rubbing alcohol collecting dust in the back of your bathroom cabinet, but it never occurs to you to actually use it. Well, it might deserve a second look.
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Rubbing alcohol (more formally known as isopropyl alcohol) has a variety of uses for health, hygiene and household. Some of them might surprise you, so we spoke with Sarah Pickering Beers, MD to learn more about how to use this versatile tool and how to be safe when using it.
What is rubbing alcohol used for?
Rubbing alcohol’s claim to fame lies in its disinfecting powers: It can kill many bacteria, viruses and fungi.
The rubbing alcohol you buy at the drugstore is a mixture of isopropyl alcohol and water. It comes in different strengths, ranging from 50% to 90% isopropyl alcohol. “Lower concentrations aren’t as good at killing germs,” Dr. Beers says. “But very high concentrations can be harsher when used on the skin. The 70% variety tends to be a good choice for most household uses.”
And there are a whole lot of uses. Here are 12 ways to put rubbing alcohol to good use.
1. Clean your bathroom tools
Alcohol is handy for disinfecting household tools like thermometers, scissors and manicure tools. You can even use it to clean makeup brushes: Swirl the brush in a small cup of rubbing alcohol, then allow it to air dry. There’s a chance alcohol can damage delicate surfaces like the protective coatings on some glasses lenses so use caution when trying it on a new tool.
2. Wipe down your tech
Use rubbing alcohol to zap germs on high-touch surfaces like your phone, keyboard and computer mouse. Use a small amount on a cloth to wipe surfaces clean. “In this case, 90% isopropyl alcohol is a good choice since it evaporates faster than lower concentrations,” says Dr. Beers.
3. Deodorize your armpits
Rubbing alcohol can get rid of the bacteria that leads to armpit stink. Wipe or spritz the lower or middle concentration alcohol onto clean pits to stop the odor-causing germs in their tracks (but you probably don’t want to do it right after shaving — it can sting).
4. De-funk your shoes
If it works on your pits, why not your sneakers? Mist alcohol inside your shoes to kill the bacteria behind funky foot odors.
5. Clean your face
Alcohol is an astringent, which tightens pores. Some people swear by it as a way to tone and tighten the skin after cleansing. But a word of caution: “Alcohol can be drying, so it isn’t the best choice for sensitive or acne-prone skin,” says Dr. Beers. “If you do try it, make sure to use a moisturizer afterward.”
6. Mix DIY hand sanitizer
Blend two parts 70% rubbing alcohol with one part aloe vera gel to make your own hand sanitizer. You can add in a few drops of essential oil to make it smell good.
7. Soothe a boo-boo
Pliable gel ice packs are handy for treating injuries and muscle aches. If you don’t have one, you can use alcohol to make your own. Mix one part 70% rubbing alcohol with three parts water and seal in a zip-top plastic bag. Freeze until it’s semi-solid, and wrap with a cloth before applying to bare skin.
8. Clean pierced ears
Earring holes are easily irritated, especially when they’re newly pierced and still healing. Gently wipe the holes with rubbing alcohol to disinfect and clean them.
9. Clean jewelry
Has your everyday jewelry lost its shine? Use a soft cloth to rub alcohol onto jewelry to get rid of germs and surface grime.
10. Make your kitchen sparkle
Alcohol can kill germs and make surfaces squeaky-clean. Because it evaporates quickly, it can shine up chrome fixtures or stainless-steel appliances without leaving water spots. “Just take care on porous surfaces,” Dr. Beers advises, “as alcohol might damage materials like wood or granite.”
11. Clean dry erase boards
Ink residue smudging up your dry erase board? Try wiping it clean with alcohol to get rid of the stains.
12. Defrost your windshield
Don’t fret if you lost your ice scraper. Try alcohol instead. Spray frosty windows with a mix of one part water and two parts rubbing alcohol.” Alcohol freezes at a much lower temperature than water,” Dr. Beers points out. “The solution will melt the ice, then evaporate before it has a chance to refreeze.”
Voila! Clear views ahead.
Isopropyl alcohol dangers: Use with care
While alcohol is handy, it is a chemical with potential dangers. According to Dr. Beers:
- Do not use near fires: Rubbing alcohol is flammable, so don’t use it near open flames.
- Do not drink it: Swallowing alcohol is dangerous, so keep it far out of reach of little hands.
- Do not bathe in it: Some old-time remedies called for soothing fevers and aches with alcohol baths or alcohol-soaked compresses applied to the skin. Bad idea. If too much alcohol is absorbed into the skin, it can be toxic to the heart and nerves.
- Do not mix it with bleach: Never mix rubbing alcohol with bleach. It can produce toxic fumes that can be deadly.
When handled with care, though, there are good reasons to keep a bottle of alcohol dusted off and ready to help with cleaning, disinfecting and more.