- What is rubbing alcohol?
- Rubbing alcohol for first aid
- Cleaning with rubbing alcohol
- Beauty uses
You've seen it on the shelves in your local pharmacy, but would it surprise you to hear that there are many more bizarre uses for rubbing alcohol, beyond caring for cuts and scrapes?
Today, we're sharing our favourite ways to use this medical marvel, whether it's for first aid, cleaning, beauty or beyond!
If you've ever wondered how to use surgical spirit and what it can be used for, keep reading...
Editor's Note: This article was originally posted in June 2015 and has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness in July 2020.
What is rubbing alcohol?
Rubbing alcohol is an antiseptic solution that is commonly used in first aid to clean and disinfect minor scrapes. The bottle might read "Surgical Spirit B.P." or "Rubbing Alcohol" so, to find what you're looking for, it's important to be aware of the different name variations.
According to drugs.com, Rubbing alcohol is typically made up of 70% alcohol (absolute or isopropyl alcohol), with the other 30% made up of water, denaturants, and perfume oils.
It can be found in most pharmacies for a couple of quid but, if you're desperate, it's also available on Amazon for less than £10.
WARNING: Always ensure that you're in a well-ventilated space when using rubbing alcohol. Rubbing alcohol is also highly flammable.
Rubbing alcohol for first aid
Before we get into all of the alternative uses for rubbing alcohol, let's start with its primary use: first aid.
1. Treat cuts and bruises
First and foremost, rubbing alcohol, or surgical spirit, can be used to clean and disinfect surface wounds, cuts and bruises. This includes piercings.
Applying the rubbing alcohol to a sterile piece of cotton wool, you can clean the affected area daily, but for no more than 7 days in a row. If the wound doesn't improve, you should seek medical advice.
Looking for an alternative? Try tea tree oil for piercings.
2. Make a home-made ice pack
Next time you have a sore area or injury, you'll want to know about this DIY ice pack. Mix 1 part surgical spirit with 3 parts water in a sealable plastic bag. It even moulds to your body!
3. Soothe a twisted ankle or similar minor injury
Apply some rubbing alcohol directly onto the area. It will help bring blood to the area and calm down the swelling.
4. A home remedy for cold sores
Cold sores are pretty common, so there's no need to fret. To heal them quickly, dab a cotton ball soaked in rubbing alcohol onto the area every night.
5. Make your own hand sanitizer with rubbing alcohol
Have the shops run out of hand sanitizer? Don't panic, you can make your own hand sanitizer very easily at home. All you need is some rubbing alcohol (the higher the percentage the better) and some aloe vera gel.
Mix together 2 parts rubbing alcohol to 1 part aloe vera gel. If your rubbing alcohol is under 70% alcohol, you'll need to increase the ratio of rubbing alcohol for it to be effective at killing bacteria.
If you would like, you can add a few drops of your favourite essential oil to give your hand sanitizer a fragrance. Once you've mixed the ingredients together, transfer your DIY hand sanitizer to a clean bottle. It's so simple!
Looking for more ways to use an aloe vera plant? Take a look at our other article.
Cleaning with rubbing alcohol
6. Remove sticky residue
Ever wondered how to remove sticker residue? Price tags, plasters, and stickers will be easy to remove when you know this clever tip.
To remove sticky residue left by price tags or stickers, soak the residue with rubbing alcohol and then wipe clean. If you're unable to soak the area, you can use a cloth to wipe it down.
To remove plaster residue on your skin, simply apply a generous amount of rubbing alcohol to a piece of cotton wool, and dab the area.
7. Deep clean your eyeglasses
Did you know you can clean your glasses with rubbing alcohol? It will have a deep clean effect and get rid of any germs. Eyes are sensitive and susceptible to infection so ensure you're regularly getting rid of dirt.
Mix 3 parts rubbing alcohol with 1 part water and decant into a clean, travel-sized bottle for a handy glasses cleaning spray.
WARNING: If your glasses have a special coating on them, check the care instructions before using any DIY cleaning solutions.
8. Dust Venetian blinds
Want to learn how to dust like a pro? Secure some microfibre cleaning cloths to the end of a pair of tongs using a few elastic bands. Dip the tongs in rubbing alcohol then clean each slat. It works a treat!
9. Make your mirrors shine
Want a streak-free shine? Squirt some rubbing alcohol onto a clean cloth and buff your mirrors using circular movements. You can also use this solution to make your sink and taps super sparkly. Try it!
10. Clean your gardening tools
Cleaning gardening tools couldn't be easier with rubbing alcohol. It'll remove any nasties from dead, diseased and rotting plants.
First, clean the tools with soap and water. Next, wipe the tools down with some rubbing alcohol and leave to work its magic for 1-2 minutes. Rinse with clean water and they'll be ready to use again.
11. Remove permanent marker
Has your kid scribbled permanent marker all over the furniture? Rubbing alcohol is a must-have for any family home.
Remove marker from non-permeable materials, like plastic, laminate and marble, by applying some rubbing alcohol onto the area. It will dissolve the marker back to its liquid state, making it easy to wipe off.
12. Deodorise your shoes
You can deodorise your shoes by spraying rubbing alcohol into your footwear, then leaving them to dry.
The rubbing alcohol will soak up any whiffs and will also have a deodorising effect on the material, so your feet shouldn't be as stinky or wet on your next wear.
13. Stretch your shoes
Another one of our top uses for rubbing alcohol is to stretch small shoes.
Believe it or not, using the same process for deodorising shoes will cause the leather to give a little.
14. Fix dirty collars
Wipe some rubbing alcohol on your neck each morning. It’ll help prevent your collar from staining and acts a mild antiperspirant, too. A heaven-sent tip during those sticky summer days!
You can also use this little trick anywhere you get sweat stains - knees, underarms and inner elbows, for example.
15. Remove nail polish
Run out of nail polish remover? No problem. Rubbing alcohol is a great substitute. It will take a lot of rubbing, but it should eventually shift!
16. The best way to clean makeup brushes
An easy way to clean makeup brushes and tools is by soaking them in rubbing alcohol for 30 minutes and allowing them to air dry. Do this every month to keep germs at bay and your brushes in tip-top condition.
Check out our tips for a more extensive guide to cleaning makeup brushes!
17. Fix a broken eyeshadow, blusher or bronzer
This is one of our favourite beauty hacks of all time. If you've ever smashed your favourite eyeshadow or powder, you've probably thought there was no going back... but there is! To fix the powder:
- Using a sterile pair of tweezers, or any (sterile!) sharp metal object, break the makeup apart, crushing it until it forms a loose powder.
- Spray the powder with rubbing alcohol.
- Take a flat, round object (a coin works well) and wrap it in a clean piece of paper towel. Use this to press the makeup down until smooth and level.
- Leave it to set and dry for a few hours and it'll be good as new!
Miscellaneous surgical spirit uses for around the home
18. Get rid of fruit flies
Don't let fruit flies take over your home!
Mix equal parts rubbing alcohol and water in a spray bottle and spray them. They'll soon drop so you can clean them away.
19. Remove ticks
Dab a small amount of surgical spirit onto your dog’s tick. They hate the taste of rubbing alcohol and loosen their grip slightly making it easier for you to pull them off. Grab the critter as close to the skin as possible and pull it off then dab again with rubbing alcohol to disinfect the wound.
20. Remove frost quickly from car windows
Frosty windows? Surgical spirit will help speed things up.
Pour some into a mini spray bottle and give windows a good squirt. It helps dissolve frost so you should be able to remove it with just a quick wipe with the wiper blades.
You can also use rubbing alcohol preventatively with this anti-frost solution. Mix a solution of 1/2 cup rubbing alcohol and 1/4 cup water. Take a sponge and wash your windows. The next time the temperature drops you should have less frost to scrape away.
21. Get rid of cooking smells from your hands
Getting rid of smells in the home can be a nightmare, but it's even worse when those smells cling to your skin! If you've ever chopped onion and garlic, you'll know how much the smell can cling to your hands.
Banish lingering smells by rubbing surgical spirit onto your hands, much like a hand gel sanitiser. It'll help to neutralise any odour.
22. Make your own air freshener
Did you know you can make your own room sprays?
Mix 1 cup of rubbing alcohol with 10-15 drops of your favourite essentials oils in a spray bottle. We love lemon and peppermint for the bathroom and relaxing lavender for the bedroom.
Where can I buy rubbing alcohol?
Rubbing Alcohol can be purchased from pharmacies and some supermarkets like Asda and Tesco. You can also buy it online from retailers like Amazon.
Are there any alternatives to rubbing alcohol?
When looking for a substitute for rubbing alcohol, you'll need to consider what you want to use it for. Saline solution works very well for cleaning wounds like new piercings. Other substitutes for rubbing alcohol can include vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, witch hazel, hand sanitiser, and unflavoured vodka, but it all depends on its intended use.
What is surgical spirit and is it the same as rubbing alcohol?
Surgical spirit is the British equivalent of rubbing alcohol.
Are methylated spirits the same things as rubbing alcohol?
Unlike rubbing alcohol, denatured alcohol, also known as "methylated spirits", contains methanol. This addition is toxic, which means that you can't use rubbing alcohol and denatured alcohol interchangeably. The website chemicals.co.uk has more information about the uses of methylated spirits.
Is rubbing alcohol safe?
Rubbing alcohol is safe to use as intended, but care should be taken. Isopropyl alcohol is highly flammable so it should always be kept away from heat sources and open flames. Inhaling rubbing alcohol can cause nausea, vomiting and irritation.
Can surgical spirit be used on newborns?
Rubbing alcohol is great for cleaning your newborn's umbilical cord. Dip a piece of cotton wool in the alcohol and gently swab at the remaining cord. Your baby will not feel any pain and the cord should fall off within two weeks.
Thanks for reading! If you have any more rubbing alcohol uses, please let us know.
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