I've had great success using rubbing alcohol and hand sanitizer for these five purposes. Some of them are a bit unexpected, too!
Hand Sanitizer and Rubbing Alcohol: What's the Difference?
The purpose of hand sanitizer and rubbing alcohol is the same: Both are meant to kill bacteria. Both household items are made with a base of either isopropyl alcohol or ethanol. What are the primary differences between isopropyl alcohol and ethanol, hand sanitizer, and rubbing alcohol?
Isopropyl Alcohol vs. Ethanol
First things first: According to poison.org, isopropyl alcohol can be deadly to adults and children alike. Ethanol is the type of alcohol in liquor, but at a very high concentration; it's easily abused, easy to access, and can also be deadly if overconsumed. So, the main difference between the two toxic chemical agents is that isopropyl is much more dangerous than ethanol. Ethanol is pure alcohol, so it can be digested, but neither substance should be consumed. When using anything that contains isopropyl alcohol or ethanol, be mindful; keep bottles out of reach of children and pets.
Hand sanitizer is made with either ethanol or isopropyl alcohol. Isopropyl alcohol in concentrations of between 50% and 70% and has been shown to greatly reduce the number of transferable organisms on hands (Boyce, 2000). Hand sanitizer is the combination of alcohol and a gel that carries the alcohol and allows for controlled application.
Rubbing alcohol can be either ethanol or isopropyl alcohol, and is usually sold in concentrations of 90% or above. It's important to always dilute rubbing alcohol to 50% to 70% to avoid burning the skin and for maximum antibacterial effect.
Here are some unconventional uses of rubbing alcohol or hand sanitizer that I have used with success.
1. Disinfect Surfaces
Rubbing alcohol is excellent for disinfecting surfaces and tools, such as bathroom counters and toilets, thermometers, and children's toys. The alcohol should be diluted to between 50% and 70%. Be sure to read about the material you're disinfecting and whether alcohol could damage the material.
Caution: Rubbing Alcohol Is Not for Wounds!
Adages of home wound cleaning claim rubbing alcohol should be used to disinfect cuts and wounds, however, using rubbing alcohol to clean wounds is not recommended by doctors. Studies show that rubbing alcohol can actually damage tissue. Every cut and scrape we received as kids got the painful alcohol treatment, but it is not the best thing to apply on a small wound.
Use warm soap and water to clean a wound and apply antimicrobial cream such as Neosporin afterward.
2. Substitute for Deodorant
Yes, rubbing alcohol and hand sanitizer can be used as emergency deodorant—I discovered this on my own before ever hearing about it!
Ever left the house and forgotten to put on deodorant before? I did once when I was a clerk at a dollar store. Working at the register, I had to be a foot away from strangers at all times; talk about embarrassing when I started to stink during the rush and I wasn’t given any time to buy deodorant off the shelf. When I had a 30-second break from customers, desperate, I thought to use the hand sanitizer from my work station. I stealthily rubbed some under my arms and the smell died instantly. This last-ditch effort was a lifesaver for disinfecting my hands and killing body odor. Who knew?
A word to the wise: Don't apply hand sanitizer or dilute rubbing alcohol directly after shaving. Your pores are open and it could burn you!
3. Hydrate Dry Skin
Hand sanitizer is everywhere, and for good reason: Killing germs transferred to your skin from surface contact is important for keeping you healthy. Many people associate alcoholic disinfectants and hand sanitizers with dry skin, however, hydrating hand sanitizer can have the opposite effect. Next time you're at the store, spring for hydrating hand sanitizer instead of regular and kill germs whilst hydrating.
If you have dry skin in places other than your hands (e.g., on your face, scalp, etc.) I recommend talking to your doctor about over-the-counter or at-home remedies. For example, I have seborrheic dermatitis. It's a common skin disorder in which oily skin develops red, itchy, flaky blotches around the nose, on the nose, between and around the eyebrows, chin, behind the ears, and on the forehead (near the hairline). It can also appear all over the scalp and other places on the body, but the face is the most distraught location. It’s an embarrassing disorder where you either have white flakes on your face or red blotches after rubbing the flakes off. The itching can drive people crazy and sometimes the red appears anyway without scratching or rubbing. There are a number of natural solutions to seborrheic dermatitis, and they are worth exploring with the recommendation of a doctor.
4. Make an Ice Gel Pack
The freezing point of isopropyl alcohol and ethanol is less than -100 degrees Fahrenheit, so rubbing alcohol and hand sanitizer isn’t going to freeze in your freezer.
Make a bag of ice slush using water and rubbing alcohol. Regardless of the total volume,
- ¼ must be rubbing alcohol, and
- ¾ must be water.
After a few hours in the freezer, you will have a permanent ice gel pack that won’t freeze into a solid mass. A gel pack is a better cooling alternative to a bag of blocky, sharp-edged ice, or a solid mass of ice that can’t bend. It’s great for applying on injuries when you need something cool, comfortable, and flexible. You can also wrap one around a drink "koozie" style to keep it cool during the summertime. An ice pack is a handy item to have around and simple to make.
This gel pack is reusable too, so it can melt and refreeze into slush.
Can I Use Hand Sanitizer to Make a Gel Pack?
In theory, hand sanitizer gel can be used to make a gel pack, but I recommend using rubbing alcohol because it's much cheaper and you only need a fraction of it. Hand sanitizer can cost twice as much.
5. Remove Frost on Car Windows
Rubbing alcohol can dissolve already-existing frost, and it's much safer than using hot water. Hot water can cause cold windows to crack from the extreme temperature change. The best way I've found to do this is:
- Put some rubbing alcohol into a spray bottle
- Spray the frosted surface
- Remove frost with a brush or a rag
If your windows are caked with ice, you can pour a bottle of rubbing alcohol onto the ice and use an ice scraper to remove it; this can take time depending on the thickness of the ice, but it certainly reduces the work and expedites the process.
These are my favorite strange (but effective!) uses for rubbing alcohol and hand sanitizer that I have personally used. There are other uses for rubbing alcohol and hand sanitizer that I have never tried, such as removing ink from fabrics, removing glue from surfaces, and cleaning just about anything (surface permitting). If anyone discovers a new use for either product, please share it below!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Diana Aponte on March 19, 2020:
I fill a little spray bottle with mostly alcohol and a bit of water and use it to clean surfaces, lens cleaner, spray on my hands
Kate Hallberg on November 12, 2018:
Patty Brackin, I'm confused and maybe just not seeing something when you wrote "recently learned that, u can use Hand..." and "So, as u can imagine...... the crimson red really...". Is there some reason I'm not understanding why someone wouldn't use "you" in a reply like this? I know it was used for texting in the 90's when we had to grind through each number key to get to one of the 3 letters but that was a long time ago. I don't see it in Twitter so I don't think it's about decreasing character count. All I can figure is it's a gender fluid pronoun since people think we don't have one in English (but we do). Can you explain to me where it came from and the "value" of it- if that's what it is since "u" and "you" seem to be homonyms?
I'm just surprised if that's what it is since I try to stay on top of LGBTQIA issues.
Anywho, as my Midwestern family sometimes said, alcohol tax is very high in the Faroe Islands. Hand sanitizer is EtOH, as it's often labeled in labs. The stuff we drink is also ethyl alcohol. Yeah. Imagine the "worst". I don't know what proof it is. *shudder*
Patty Brackin on July 29, 2018:
I have recently learned that, u can use Hand sanitizer to remove out-door latex paint from vinyl siding. My husband painted my bestfriend's porch Crimson red. Of course, there was some over spray. Her vinyl siding is kind of a cream color. So, as u can imagine...... the crimson red really stood out. I dont really know where or how my husband came across the idea of using hand sanitizer, but he did...... and it worked! Just some helpful info for future reference, folks.....
daenarys on August 24, 2017:
I wanted to know if I could use hand sanitizers on mealybugs which are killing my cactus. as I don't have rubbing alcohol at the moment.but I did find some interesting things which would definitely help in the future.
Epahthenerd on May 17, 2017:
This site was very interesting and useful. I plan to be revisiting it soon. There is however a bit of incorrect information on the page. Not all rubbing alcohol is made from isopropyl alcohol. Many rubbing alcohols for sale are made of ethanol. Also, ethanol is not highly toxic. It is the exact same alcohol put in drinks. The reason why hand sanitizer and rubbing alcohol made from ethanol is harmful is because methanol (a very deadly type of alcohol which can course blindness and death) is added to make it non consumable. This is done so that rubbing alcohol and hand sanitizer can be bought without paying alcohol tax. Isopropyl alcohol is toxic however and should not be consumed. Regardless, there are a wide array of ingredients in such products which render it inedible meaning that one should always stay away from consuming them. Also, many alcohols are lipidophilic meaning that they bond to oils. That means that they can be used to some-what clean up oil and grease spots.
Charles Lickens on October 20, 2016:
Charles Dickens = confirmed ant lover
CharIes Dickens on October 19, 2016:
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@Joel: regarding what you wrote 9 days ago:
Rubbing alcohol in a spray bottle + lighter can be a handy blow torch to kill ants. Fun!
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Yeah, that sounds like a whole lot of fun! I can't even begin to imagine how entertaining it would be to take the time out of my day to fill a spray bottle with isopropyl alcohol and kill ants for FUN!
Pretty soon, you can move onto even more fascinating things - like drowning cats, or burning live animals with your homemade torch!
You realize how insane this sounds, right? Taking the time out of your day to fill a bottle with flammable liquid (i.e. building a homemade "fire sprayer") - with the intention of killing ants for fun??
What's the point? Are you being serious?
Tony on September 21, 2016:
I used it instead of the saline they give you to keep my new ear piercings clean and i use it to clean my earrings/ear lobe regularly. I had one infection the first time i missed a day and cleaned that with alcohol as well and went away in no time
mariekbloch (author) on February 15, 2013:
Thank you, Kenja. I'm glad you enjoyed the info. Have a happy V-Day too!
Ken Taub from Long Island, NY on February 14, 2013:
clever, practical, and just plain fun. so happy Valentine's Day Mariel, and thanks for the info. Ken