Rubbing alcohol is a mixture of denatured alcohol, water, and other agents that are added to make it unpalatable to drink. Although it is usually clear, some rubbing alcohols may contain colorants. Nicknamed “surgical spirit” in the United Kingdom, rubbing alcohol has a strong smell that is similar to fingernail polish remover.
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The rubbing alcohol commonly sold in grocery stores and pharmacies in the U.S. comes in two grades — 70 percent isopropyl alcohol and 90 percent isopropyl alcohol. The 90 percent solution has a lower water content and is a bit more expensive.
The 70 percent solution has higher water content and is gentler on skin. You can find the 70 percent solution at the dollar store in the first-aid section. (Both types work well for the uses we have listed in this article.)
Rubbing alcohol is a common ingredient in hand sanitizers, paint thinner, antifreeze, household cleaners, and some personal care products. All rubbing alcohols are unsafe for human consumption. In fact, the term “rubbing alcohol” came into use during the Prohibition era to emphasize its use as a liniment for massage and to distinguish it from other forms of alcohol.
Now let’s look at some of the ways rubbing alcohol can help you in a survival situation.
1. Disinfectant – You can use rubbing alcohol to clean and disinfect non-porous surfaces such as cooking surfaces and cooking utensils when hot water and soap is not available. Apply the solution as a disinfectant and then allow it to dry.
2. First Aid – You also can use rubbing alcohol to sanitize tweezers and other first aid equipment and to clean minor cuts and scrapes. (Do not use rubbing alcohol for mouth wounds or deep skin wounds.)
3. Foot and Nail Fungus – Rubbing alcohol can kill the fungus that causes athlete’s foot and nail fungus. Mix together equal parts of rubbing alcohol and water and then apply on the affected area with a cotton ball several times a day to kill the fungus and to help prevent infection. You also can rub the feet each night with rubbing alcohol to help prevent fungal infection. A bonus is that the solution also kills the bacteria that cause foot odor.
4. Fire Starter – Rubbing alcohol is highly flammable and can serve as a fire starter in a survival situation. Squirt or spray small amounts on wood before lighting. If you have rubbing alcohol pads in your first aid kit, you can use these as handy fire accelerants.
5. Tick Removal – You can get ticks to unlatch themselves for easier removal with rubbing alcohol. Soak a cotton ball with rubbing alcohol and place it directly on the tick. When the tick releases its grasp, carefully remove it with tweezers.
6. Ice Packs – You can make your own frozen packs with rubbing alcohol. Here’s how. Mix together three parts water with one part rubbing alcohol. Pour the solution in a zippered bag and freeze for three hours. These squishy cold packs will bend and shape around an arm or a leg to reduce pain and swelling. The packs are reusable.
7. Cold Sore Treatment – Apply rubbing alcohol to painful cold sore with a cotton swab. Its antiseptic properties help the cold sore to dry out and heal. (Please note: The rubbing alcohol will sting a bit, and be sure to apply it externally only.)
8. Kill Pests – You can kill many insects by spraying them with rubbing alcohol. Be sure to avoid your stove, and any open flames when spraying since rubbing alcohol is flammable.
- Aphids. Combine two parts rubbing alcohol with five parts water along with one tablespoon of dishwashing liquid. Spray directly on plants that are under attack from aphids. Repeat in a few days if needed.
- Bed bugs. Spray rubbing alcohol on mattress and box springs to kill bedbugs on contact. Avoid spraying wood furniture.
- Head lice. Use rubbing alcohol to sanitize your comb as you continue to remove nits.
- Fruit flies and gnats. You can kill fruit flies and gnats by spraying them with rubbing alcohol. Be careful to avoid spraying any fruit you want to eat.
9. Soothe Insect Bites and Stings – Rubbing alcohol soothes skin and relieves itching from bites and stings. It also helps promote healing by drying out the skin.
10. Ease The Pain of Rashes and Burns – Similarly, an application of rubbing alcohol can help provide relief from rashes associated with poison oak, poison ivy and sumac. It also can help prevent infections that may result from these rashes.
11. Get Rid of Grease and Residue – Rubbing alcohol helps remove greasy, sticky and oily substances from pots and pans and surfaces when water is scarce.
12. Soothe Joints and Muscles – Let’s not forget the word “rubbing” as we discuss the uses for rubbing alcohol. The stress and physical labor involved with a survival scenario can lead to painful muscles and joints. Massaging rubbing alcohol into the skin increases blood flow and soothes discomfort. (Do not use on babies or young children.)
13. Hand Sanitizer – Rubbing alcohol is the main ingredient in most store-bought hand sanitizers. You can make your own version with rubbing alcohol, aloe Vera gel and if you’d like, a bit of essential oil. Here is the recipe.
- 2/3 cup rubbing alcohol
- 1/3 cup aloe Vera gel
- 10 drops essential oil (such as lavender)
Massage the resulting gel into your hands and fingers just as you would with commercial hand sanitizer but without any of the usually added chemicals. Keeping your hands clean will help prevent illness and infection during an emergency.
14. Prevent and Treat an Ear Infection – When water pools in the inner ear, it can lead to the painful infection commonly known as swimmer’s ear. Placing a few drops of rubbing alcohol on a cotton ball and placing it just inside your ear may help dry out the affected area. Another option is to moisten a cotton swab with a mixture of rubbing alcohol and white vinegar. Gently swab the area.
Here is a recipe for swimmer’s ear drops. Mix two tablespoons of rubbing alcohol with two tablespoons of white vinegar. Use an eyedropper to place two to three drops in the ear. (Use sparingly. Rubbing alcohol can cause dryness and irritation if you overdo it.)
15. Defroster – You can use a rubbing alcohol solution to defrost car windows when you need to get going in a hurry. Keep a spray bottle filled with a mixture of one part rubbing alcohol and five parts water in your car. It won’t freeze, and you can use it to mist your windows before wiping away melted ice.
By now, you see the advantages of having a large supply of rubbing alcohol on hand as part of your emergency preparedness. The amazing product also is useful in many non-emergency situations.
- Use As Deodorant – Dab a cotton ball dipped in rubbing alcohol on your armpits to clean away and kill bacteria that can cause underarm odor. (Caution — rubbing alcohol can sting recently shaved underarms.)
- Clean Mirrors and Windows – Rubbing alcohol is great at removing fingerprints and residue from glass. You can use it to clean your eyeglasses too.
- Remove Laundry Stains – Pre-treat ink and marker stains in clothing with rubbing alcohol before laundering.
- Marker Removal – Rubbing alcohol safely removes permanent marker from many hard surfaces.
- Clean Granite Counters – Use rubbing alcohol to clean your granite kitchen counters safely.
- Remove Sticker Residue – Remove the annoying remnants of adhesive from stickers with a cloth moistened with rubbing alcohol.
- Disinfect Electronics – Apply a small amount of rubbing alcohol to a cotton swab to safely clean your phone, keyboard or computer mouse. It evaporates quickly, so you don’t have to worry about liquid damage.
- Deodorize Smelly Shoes – Spritz the inside of smelly footwear with rubbing alcohol and leave them out in the sunshine to dry. The rubbing alcohol and the sunlight combine to kill the germs that are causing bad odors.
- Clean Sinks – Rubbing alcohol cleans and disinfects kitchen and bathroom sinks. It also is safe to use on chrome and brass.
- Deep Clean a Dry Erase Board – Get rid of lingering shadows from dry-erase markers by cleaning your whiteboard periodically with rubbing alcohol.
- Clean Microfiber Furniture – Water can stain microfiber, but rubbing alcohol does not penetrate the fabric, and it evaporates quickly. Spray rubbing alcohol on the stain and then wipe clean with a white cloth. Allow the area to dry. If the microfiber seems matted, brush the area in a circular motion using a soft brush.
- Refresh Sponges and Cleaning Clothes – Use rubbing alcohol to get rid of the bacteria that can cause sponges and cleaning cloths to smell rancid. Place the sponge or cloth in a small bowl filled with rubbing alcohol, allowing it to remain there for 15 minutes. Then rinse well with water.
- Wipe Down Stainless Steel Appliances – Spray some rubbing alcohol onto a soft cloth for a streak-free and gentle way of cleaning your stainless-steel kitchen appliances.
Rubbing alcohol also comes in a 99 percent variety. It is extremely flammable and is mostly used for research and industrial work. Because it is toxic if swallowed, be sure to keep all forms of rubbing alcohol away from babies and young children.
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