- 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.
Please also feel free to share this article if you found it useful!
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These are great tips....although I did spot a typo: you've written 'skin' instead of sink in tip 4 ;-) It would be great if it did leave skin super sparkling =D
Ooh good spot Elaine, Thanks for that :)
Great tips on the uses of rubbing alcohol. I'll give some of them a try
Thanks Grace, good luck!
Anushka, can surgical spirit be used to clean knives, stainless steel spoons, crockery & cutlery. E.g. when one's traveling and has minimum access to cleaning soap or liquid? Can it also be used to disinfect / sterilise surfaces? E.g. Handles, toilet seat etc. Am thinking what else? ☺
Hi Shekar surgical spirit can help kill bacteria so yes you could use it for the purposed you listed. I would be careful of using it in public places as they come with a caution to jeep it out of reach of children and to avoid broken skin.
Excellent tips. ? Thank you so much Anushka.. Add some surgical usage if possible..
I use it on gnat bites, usually stops the itching straight away
Great tip, thanks Sue!
Really superb Pls let me know some more tips to maintain wash rooms n kitchen clean n hygiene. Thanks in advance.
Greetings from Perth, Western Australia, I use it to dry out and quickly heal skin blemishes like pimple sores after picking those black/white heads. But most of all I use it to thin enamel paint like humbrol hobby paints or thin out your liquid paper correction pen and it's great for getting old dried out Artline pens to work again just place a few drops inside the pen by screwing the front plastic nib off and you'll see the coloured felt ink sponge inside just give it a few drops depending how dried out it is sometimes you may have to give like 15 drops but they'll will work like new with thick flow of ink once again... these tips can be achieved also with thinners, methalyated spirits, and other solvent type chemicals but surgical spirit or Rubbing Alcohol do just as good a job and easier to handle with the smaller bottles... hope this helped somebody
Greetings! Thanks for sharing, really interesting. I will pass your advice on to my friend who may benefit from the tip :)
Hey can we use spirit insted of alcohol ??? Pls do reply
Hi Jaziba. Yes, you should be fine using spirit instead :)
Used daily between toes I have found it heals and prevents the return of athletes foot!
Hi Chris. What a great tip - thanks for sharing :)
My podologist suggested wiping the feet with surgical spirit to minimise sweating and stinky feet. I also use it to dry out mosquito bites.
Hi Gillian. Thanks a lot for sharing the tips from your podologist - it's always great to get expert advice :)
Can I clean toilet seat with surgical spirit?
Hi Anita. Yes you can! Surgical spirit is an excellent disinfectant. I would, however, recommend wearing gloves and spraying it onto the surface using a spray bottle.
Hello Anushka, When I was hoping to become a ballerina and it was forbidden to use any padding for comfort when wearing pointe shoes I used surgical spirit on my toes twice a day to prevent blisters. It worked.
Hi Rosalyn. Wow, that sounds very painful! Thanks for sharing your tip with us. :)
Hi, can I use surgical spirit to remove spots of paint on my black aluminium doors?
Hi Lorraine, it sounds like it could work. We would suggest doing a very small patch test to check if the surgical spirit reacts to the aluminium.
Hardening guitar players finger tips
Hi Geof. What an interesting tip! I'll be sure to pass this tip on to my musical friends :)
We were advised by a vet never to put anything on a tick as it makes the tick vomit before detatching, which increases infection massively, a tick tool is the safest way to remove them
Long term use of isopropyl alcohol on plastic products is a bad idea as it leeches the plasticiser from the plastic and makes it brittle, it is widely used to clean glass as pure isopropyl alcohol leaves little residue just ensure you don't use an excess if there is plastic near and refrain from using it near any painted surfaces as it acts as a solvent for most paints.
Thanks for the tip Massiveffect!
can I use this to clean my canon printer print head?
Hi George! Be careful because alcohols can damage plastic and dry out rubber!
Oohh WOW. Thanks for these tips...much appreciated
You're welcome, Nandipha!
I used alcohol as a precaution to avoid blisters when walking the Coast to Coast (St Bee's Head to Robin Hood's Bay) a few years' ago. It worked amazingly well for that, but I was peeling off layers of dead skin for weeks afterwards. Worth it to avoid painful feet and the long healing process.
That would certainly help to reduce the swelling!
Hi, these are great tips, thank you! I was told that it can be used on the scalp to encourage hair growth, is this true? Also not to use it to cleanse the face as a cleanser as it will enlarge pores and make the skin look older. Is this true?
Hi Rez! I've not seen any solid evidence that backs either of these suggestions. If you're looking for ways to grow your hair, I would suggest you take a look at our article: https://experthometips.com/how-to-make-your-hair-grow-faster-than-ever
Surgical spirit, is good for preventing athletes foot from coming back, if it threatens to. 1 .wash & dry the area. 2. Apply surgical spirit to the affected skin. 3 leave overnight. 4. Use a good foot moisturizer. E.g. :Compeed overnight cracked heel repair cream. 😃 Does what it says on the tube! 👌 Works for me! 👍😉
Great tip! Thanks for sharing.
This is awesome! Thank you for this, I will be trying out as many as possible of these. Thanks Anushka!
You're welcome, Mike!
Good blog but would be wary about the tick one.
Is it safe for daily use as underarm deodorant? I've been using in this capacity for the past 6 months. It works so much better than any deodorant/anti-perspirant I've ever used. I'm concerned about any serious long term side effects? My skin does not dry out. I know you should avoid breathing it in. What other side effects should I be concerned with?
I'd never heard of using it in this way before, but I can see how it would work. If you look at DIY deodorant recipes online, many of them use a form of alcohol. I think it would be best to consult your GP to see if it can have any long term effects on your health. There are thought to be risks with the aluminium content in standard deodorant, so I can't see why it would be any worse than that!
is it safe to use rubbing alcohol to clean pressing irons to get rid of greasy and other unwanted stuff, please?
Hi there! For the best method to clean an iron, check out our article > https://experthometips.com/clean-dirty-iron-get-sparkling
How much it costs? Is it cheaper in Boots than in Amazon?
For a standard-sized bottle, it's probably cheaper to buy it from boots than Amazon. If you're planning to buy in bulk, I would order a larger container from Amazon.
Hand sanitzers that are alcohol free are not as effective as those which have alcohol. Can I add surgical spirit to the alcohol free one?
Hi May! I would never advise mixing chemicals.
With the Coronavirus about us, can you use surgical spirit as a hand sanitizer.
Hi Bridget! We have added instructions for how to make your own hand sanitizer using surgical spirit.
How and in what proportion should the clinic spirit be used for disinfecting metal door knobs, switches....
Hi Hemal! Roughly 2 parts rubbing alcohol to 1 part water should do the trick.
Hi Joanne. How would I use Rubbing alcohol to clean lipstick?
Hi Alindi! It's really easy. Submerge the lipstick in rubbing alcohol for around 30 seconds. Take a clean tissue and gently wipe off the top layer of lipstick as you dry off the bullet.
Hi I’ve been looking for a way to remove candle wax from a carpet. I know about brown paper and a hot iron, but it’s a large area and my iron cord isn’t long enough. Apart from an extension leaf I’m at a loss. Will rubbing alcohol do the job without ruining the carpet? Thank you for all the tips, they are very useful
To remove candle wax from a carpet, scrape off as much wax as possible, then apply heat with a hair dryer and blot with rubbing alcohol until the wax is removed. To avoid damage, test any cleaning solution on a small, inconspicuous carpet area first.
someone commented that rubbing alcohol is good for getting rid of bed bugs. Could you comment on this? What would the recipe be? Thanks!
Rubbing alcohol can kill bed bugs, but it may not be the most effective method. It is best to consult with a professional pest control expert for the best and safest solution.
Hi. I soaked a thermometer in rubbing alcohol. Now I don’t know what to do with the used alcohol. It’s about half a cup. Any idea? I don’t think it’s safe to pour in the sink?
Do not pour the used alcohol down the sink, as it can harm the environment and pipes. Instead, you can let it evaporate, take it to a hazardous waste disposal facility, or reuse it if still good, but handle it carefully as it is flammable and toxic.
Can I use this to get Permanent Hair Dye out of my carpet
Rubbing alcohol may be able to remove some of the colour from a permanent hair dye stain on a carpet, but it may not completely remove the stain. Therefore, it's always best to test a small, inconspicuous area of the carpet before using any cleaning solution.
This is very educative I will it and see
Thanks for the kind feedback, Daniel!
Surgical Spirit can also be used on the feet. Put a bit on a cotton bud or piece of cotton wool & rub over. Especially the toes. Surgical spirit hardens the skin ( slightly) & helps prevent corns,caused by chafing/ pressure.
Surgical spirit can help prevent corns on the feet by hardening the skin and reducing the pressure caused by friction. However, caution should be taken as it may also dry the skin and cause irritation.
Why not just call it "Surgical Spirit?" That's what it is generally called in the UK, including Boots and most pharmacies. Great for treating foot and other infections, including spots. However, it is a poison and you should make sure it is not consumed, especially by children.
We have readers from all over the world, so we want to get the message across with all the name variations!
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