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Rubbing alcohol


Rubbing alcohol, U.S.P. / B.P. is a liquid prepared for topical application prepared from specially denatured alcohol and containing 68.5-71.5% vol./vol. of absolute (ie. 100%) ethyl alcohol. Individual manufacturers can use their own "formulation standards" in which the ethanol content usually ranges from 70-95% v/v.

The term "rubbing alcohol" has become a general non-specific term for either isopropanol or ethanol rubbing alcohol products. The confusion comes from the greater popularity of isopropyl rubbing alcohol, and as a result, individuals requesting "rubbing alcohol" generally expect and get an isopropyl alcohol product. The British Pharmacopoeia and United States Pharmacopoeia standards (standards recognized in many countries other than the UK and USA) define rubbing alcohol as a mixture of ethanol (Ethyl Alcohol, C2H5OH=46.07) and water of fixed proportions.

For Isopropyl Rubbing Alcohol U.S.P. / B.P. see the entry at the bottom of the article.

In the United States, rubbing alcohol, U.S.P. and all preparations coming under the classification of Rubbing Alcohols must be manufactured in accordance with the requirements of the US Treasury Department, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, using Formula 23-H (8 parts by volume of acetone, 1.5 parts by volume of methyl isobutyl ketone, and 100 parts by volume of ethyl alcohol). It contains 68.5-71.5% by volume of absolute ethyl alcohol, the remainder consisting of water and the denaturants, with or without colour additives, and perfume oils. Rubbing Alcohol contains in each 100 mL not less than 355 mg of sucrose octaacetate or not less than 1.40 mg of denatonium benzoate. The preparation may be coloured with one or more colour additives. A suitable stabilizer may also be added. [1]

Rubbing alcohol also exists on pharmacy store shelves without the U.S.P. standard designation. The concentration of the ethyl alcohol component can vary but it is generally printed under the ingredient list of that particular product. A common concentration is 95%.


Physical Properties

Rubbing alcohol is a cellular, volatile, and flammable liquid. It is transparent, though it can be coloured as desired. It has an extremely bitter taste and (in the absence of added odorous substances) a characteristic odour. The specific gravity of Formula 23-H is between 0.8691 and 0.8771 at 15.56°.


Rubbing alcohol can be applied as a cooling, soothing application for bedridden patients and athletes. It is also widely used for cleansing surgeons' hands and instruments and for the disinfection of skin prior to penetration by a hypodermic needle. As an antiseptic it is good against vegetative bacteria and fair against fungi and viruses, but is ineffective against spores. It is widely believed that 70% ethanol provides the greatest reduction in bacterial count; however, this is incorrect. Other concentrations may be more effective, but their rate of kill is slower. In order to reduce the skin bacterial count to 5% of normal, 70% ethanol must be left on the skin for at least 2 minutes. Rubbing alcohol is also a feeble anesthetic and a mild counterirritant. It is not drinkable, although people have been known to attempt ingestion.

Rubbing alcohol is recognized as a rubefacient because it evaporates quickly and is used to cool and soothe skin. It is, however, more widely used as an antiseptic for sterilizing surfaces or clean minor cuts or abrasions.

Isopropyl rubbing alcohol can also be supplied in a 99% concentration. This product can also be used to harden skin, such as in the case of the feet of novice hikers, or the fingertips of guitarists.[citation needed] Care should always be taken, and the label should be read carefully.

It is unsuited as a fuel in alcohol stoves because of the relatively low vapor pressure of isopropyl alcohol.

In the UK the equivalent skin preparation is surgical spirit which is always based on an ethyl alcohol-methyl alcohol mixture, and which often has the addition of small quantities of iodoform as a topical bacteriocide.

A typical modern composition for Surgical Spirit BP is: ethanol, methanol, water, castor oil, methyl salicylate, diethyl phthalate. It has a strong smell of wintergreen due to the presence of the methyl salicylate.


Rubbing alcohol should be used in a well-ventilated area. Some cautions go so far as to say protective gloves should be worn while using it. Poisoning can occur from ingestion, inhalation, or absorption of rubbing alcohol.

Isopropyl rubbing alcohol is poisonous and can cause permanent disabling illness or death if consumed.

Mixing rubbing alcohol with pool chlorine can result in a Haloform reaction [2], generating lots of heat and boiling off its products as excess gas. If this chemical reaction is done inside a closed plastic container, the gas can build up until it ruptures violently. This can pose a serious risk of injury as the chemicals (such as bleach) and shrapnel from the container are thrown outward by the explosion.

Other applications

  • It will allegedly remove silly putty from textiles and pine resin from most materials.
  • Due to its volatile nature, it can help to evaporate liquids.
  • It helps to separate glue from bonded objects.
  • It will remove Thermal grease from Computer Processor Heatsinks
  • It can be used to clean the optical surface of CDs and DVDs.
  • It can be used to extract soluble chemicals from an insoluble matrix; the appropriate steps are mixing, maceration, filtration, and evaporation.
  • It can be used as a fuel in some engines.
  • It can be used as a do-it-yourself cleaner for guitar/bass guitar strings in order to enhance their life
  • It removes shoe polish.
  • It is the preferred cleaner for LCD monitors
  • Due to its rapid evaporation, it can be used to clean electronics or other devices that become damaged when wet
  • Video head cleaner also Audio head cleaner for Audio and Video-VTR Record-Players.
  • Can be used to erase permanent ink off most surfaces.
  • Can be used to clean halogen bulbs

Isopropyl Rubbing Alcohol

Isopropyl Rubbing Alcohol, U.S.P. / B.P. contains 68-99% of isopropyl alcohol, by volume, the remainder consisting of water, with or without colour additives, suitable stabilizers, and perfume oils. Isopropyl alcohol is oxidized by the liver into acetone. Symptoms of isopropyl alcohol poisoning include flushing, headache, dizziness, CNS depression, nausea, vomiting, anesthesia, and coma.

Isopropyl rubbing alcohol is poisonous and can cause permanent disabling illness or death if consumed.

Isopropyl alcohol should be used in a well-ventilated area. Some cautions go so far as to say protective gloves should be worn while using it. Poisoning can occur from ingestion, inhalation, or absorption.


  1. ^ Expert Committee:(PA2)Pharmaceutical Analysis 2, USP28–NF23 Page 62, Pharmacopeial Forum:Volume No.27(3)Page 2507 [1]
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Rubbing_alcohol". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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