April 27, 2023

Never Use Rubbing Alcohol To Bring Down a Fever

It can cause alcohol poisoning and other serious health issues, especially in kids

Child with fever has wet washcloth on forehead.

An old folk remedy passed down from previous generations says that applying rubbing alcohol to the skin can bring down a fever. But some advice — including this dangerous suggestion — is better left in the past.


Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

This so-called home remedy is actually an extremely unsafe practice that can cause severe health issues.

Pediatrician Maureen Ahmann, DO, explains what you need to know about rubbing alcohol and why you should never apply it to your or your child’s skin to try to treat a fever.

Dangers of using rubbing alcohol for a fever

“Do not wipe your child down with rubbing alcohol,” Dr. Ahmann stresses. “It can ultimately be more dangerous for your child than the fever itself.”

Rubbing alcohol is a household chemical product made with isopropanol, also known as isopropyl alcohol or 2-propanol. It has a variety of uses, including disinfecting surfaces and, when used in very small amounts, cleaning bug bites and piercing sites.

Rubbing alcohol on the skin can provide a temporary cooling effect, which is why it might seem like a good move to treat a fever. But that effect is fleeting, lasting for just a minute or two — and more importantly, it can cause severe health issues.

Side effects

Think about what happens to a product after you put it in your skin: It soaks into your skin, but then what?


“Products that you apply to the skin are then absorbed through the skin and into the body,” Dr. Ahmann explains. If what you’re putting on your (or your child’s) skin is dangerous, it can cause health problems once it sinks in.

As its name suggests, rubbing alcohol contains alcohol. Once it’s absorbed into your child’s skin, it enters their bloodstream, which can cause serious and even life-threatening changes in their body’s ability to function.

That includes:

  • Alcohol poisoning: You might associate alcohol poisoning with having too much to drink, but rubbing alcohol applied to the skin can cause isopropyl alcohol poisoning in children, whose smaller bodies make them more susceptible to absorption-related issues.
  • Coma: Alcohol intoxication and alcohol poisoning can lead to a disruption of brain activity known as a coma or a persistent vegetative state. When a person is in a coma, they’re unconscious, unaware of the world around them and unresponsive to attempts to wake them up.
  • Cardiac and neurological problems: Alcohol in the bloodstream, especially in children’s small bodies, can cause problems with the heart and brain, including irregular heartbeat and seizures.

All of these issues can lead to permanent brain damage or even death.

“The potential side effects are so dangerous that you should never apply rubbing alcohol to the skin to try to bring down a high temperature,” Dr. Ahmann reiterates.

What to do for a fever instead

First, remember that a fever is actually a sign that your child’s body is trying to fight off a virus or an infection — which means it’s not always a cause for concern. Sometimes, fevers aren’t accompanied by any symptoms, and in these cases, all you need to do is keep an eye on your child and watch for any escalating concerns.


“If they’re running around and playing, you don’t have to worry about it too much,” Dr. Ahmann says. “The only reason to treat a fever is to make your child more comfortable.”

If your child is especially uncomfortable, like if their spike in temperature is brought on by the flu or another illness, there are a few things you can do while you wait for their fever to break.

“You can put a cool washcloth on their forehead, back or under their arms,” Dr. Ahmann advises, “and you can give them a lukewarm bath or shower — but not a cold bath, which can actually raise their temperature even further.”

If your child is under 6 months old or if their fever hasn’t come down after a few days — or if you have any other questions or concerns about how to treat them — call their pediatrician’s office to ask for individualized guidance.

Related Articles

Notes taped to window of possible new year's resolutions with hand in foreground holding marker.
December 1, 2023
How To Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions

Pick specific, measurable goals, but also be open to changing them if need be

person holding a thermometer with stress thought bubbles above head
December 1, 2023
Yes, There Is Such a Thing as Stress Sickness

From nausea, weight gain and eczema, stress can affect your immune system in many ways

bowl of soy-based cubes with hand
November 30, 2023
Can Soy Cause Breast Cancer?

Research consistently shows that soy-based foods do not increase cancer risk

person scratching neck that has eczema
November 29, 2023
How Lifestyle Changes and Self-Care Can Improve Your Atopic Dermatitis

Changing your wardrobe or environment won’t eliminate eczema, but it can help reduce flares

person stressing, with clock and books
November 29, 2023
6 Ways To Feel Less Anxious in the Mornings

Breathwork, sleep mediatation and avoiding screens can help fight back morning anxiety

covid toe
November 28, 2023
Are COVID Toes and Rashes Common Symptoms of the Coronavirus?

Chilblain-like skin lesions and rashes probably aren’t COVID related

magnesium pills out of container spelling out MG
November 28, 2023
Magnesium for Anxiety: Does It Help?

This supplement may help with regulating cortisol levels, which may help with stress

woman in her forties, using an inhaler
November 28, 2023
Why Sex Hormones Can Help (or Hurt) Your Asthma

Developmental changes like puberty and menopause can impact symptom severity

Trending Topics

group of hands holding different beverages
November 14, 2023
10 Myths About Drinking Alcohol You Should Stop Repeating

Coffee won’t cure a hangover and you definitely shouldn’t mix your cocktail with an energy drink

Person applies moisturizer as part of their skin care routine after a shower.
November 10, 2023
Korean Skin Care Routines: What You Need To Know

Focus on the philosophy — replenishing and respecting your skin — not necessarily the steps

glass of cherry juice with cherries on table
November 8, 2023
Sleepy Girl Mocktail: What’s in It and Does It Really Make You Sleep Better?

This social media sleep hack with tart cherry juice and magnesium could be worth a try