Is Isopropyl Alcohol the Same as Rubbing Alcohol?

We’re all much more aware of the ingredients in our stuff these days, and that’s a good thing! We’re also much more interested in what’s inside our disinfectants, like hand sanitizers. Unfortunately, consumers and manufacturers sometimes throw “isopropyl alcohol” and “rubbing alcohol” around without an explanation.

In a lot of cases, people will use the two terms interchangeably, even though both rubbing alcohol and isopropyl alcohol aren’t technically the same thing (though they are very closely related). Let’s break down what exactly isopropyl and rubbing alcohol are and what role one plays in the other.

Isopropyl Alcohol: An Overview

Also known as 2-propanol or IPA, isopropyl alcohol is one of the most widely used disinfectants and alcoholic compounds used across many industries. Today, you can find isopropyl alcohol used within hospitals, as pharmaceutical agents, in clean rooms, and even in hand sanitizers.

Isopropyl alcohol is so widely used because it’s highly effective at disinfecting surfaces. When isopropyl alcohol is used in concentrations between 60% and 90% with between 40% and 10% purified water, it can rapidly denature bacteria, viruses, and even certain types of fungi.

How does it work? Alcohol essentially draws bacterial shells and walls apart due to the shape and attributes of its molecular bonds. This forces bacteria apart, preventing them from functioning properly and dismantling them in the process.

Isopropyl alcohol is used as the active ingredient in lots of disinfectant solutions since it can be capably combined with water, which acts as a catalyst and helps spread alcoholic molecules around or within a solution.

In total, you can find isopropyl alcohol used as a:

  • Astringent
  • Cleaning agent
  • As an ingredient for stripping paint
  • As a disinfectant
  • As a dilution and extraction ingredient in certain lab chemicals

Rubbing Alcohol: An Overview

Rubbing alcohol is usually made from isopropyl alcohol: one of the two primary types of alcohol used in disinfecting and cleaning solutions. The other main type is ethyl alcohol or ethanol, which is the same kind of alcohol used in alcoholic beverages.

Most rubbing alcohol brands use isopropyl alcohol, including Dr. Brite! Our rubbing alcohol formula uses 70% isopropyl alcohol and water: no other ingredients are added to ensure effectiveness and cleanliness.

Rubbing alcohol is just isopropyl or ethyl alcohol that is mixed with a certain amount of water. It’s only meant to be used for external disinfecting, which is why it’s normally used as a rubbing solution on open wounds or as a disinfecting solution for hard surfaces.

Rubbing alcohol is not meant to be drunk under any circumstances since it is incredibly high proof. Any rubbing alcohol made with ethyl alcohol will also use a special version of ethanol that has been denatured to prevent people from drinking it.

Why is Rubbing Alcohol Called Rubbing Alcohol?

Rubbing alcohol is a relatively recent invention, as the term was only fully realized in the 1920s. It was first used as a lining or soaking solution for bandages, plus as a rubbing solution for regular massages! In those days, people added various perfumes and additives to the rubbing alcohol, which helped to dry out the pores of the skin (a good therapy for those with oily skin).

Since that time, rubbing alcohol has become a standard inclusion in most medical kits and hospital environments. It’s capable of thoroughly disinfecting any surfaces in just seconds, so it’s frequently used on open wounds and for surgical instruments. 

But it’s also called rubbing alcohol to give you a clue as to its intended use. You should never drink rubbing alcohol or use it in a place where it might be ingested. This also means you should never use rubbing alcohol on your pets. Even though your dog might need a wound disinfected, for example, they’re also likely to lick that wound due to their instincts.

If they accidentally ingest rubbing alcohol, they could become ill as a result. It’s always best to visit a veterinarian instead of trying to disinfect a pet’s wound yourself.

Is Isopropyl Alcohol Used in Hand Sanitizer? 

Yes. Isopropyl alcohol as a separate ingredient is used in hand sanitizer. This technically means that rubbing alcohol is also used in hand sanitizer since most hand sanitizers use combinations of alcohol, water, and other gel-like ingredients to create the final product.

Isopropyl alcohol is favored in hand sanitizer use for a few reasons:

  • Compared to ethanol, isopropyl alcohol does not dry out the skin nearly as much. One big benefit of rubbing alcohol as a disinfectant is that alcohol evaporates quite quickly. This allows it to destroy cells rapidly without leaving the surface wet. But when used on human skin, ethyl alcohol can dry out your pores and lead to discomfort or itchiness.
  • Furthermore, isopropyl alcohol evaporates even more quickly than ethanol.
  • Isopropyl alcohol is especially effective at killing various types of cysts and fungi. Examples include a bacteria called Acanthamoeba culbertsoni, commonly found in soil and non-potable water.

However, both types of alcohol used in hand sanitizer products – ethyl alcohol and isopropyl alcohol – can be effective choices. We use isopropyl alcohol in all of our hand sanitizer and disinfectant offerings since we don’t like it when our skin dries out too quickly upon applying hand sanitizer, and we imagine you feel the same way!

Is Ethyl or Isopropyl Alcohol Better?

Neither type of alcohol is strictly better for hand sanitizers are other products than the other. Many companies use ethyl alcohol instead of isopropyl alcohol, in part because they might have a greater stockpile of it already.

For instance, several distilleries for alcoholic beverages now produce hand sanitizer as a side venture since they have tons of ethyl alcohol sitting around.

Still, we prefer isopropyl alcohol for our own formula, combined with essential oils to keep your hands from chapping with use. 

How Much Isopropyl Alcohol Do You Need in Hand Sanitizer?

In hand sanitizer and other disinfectant products, it’s always recommended to use isopropyl alcohol in concentrations between 60% and 90%. The CDC specifically recommends that your hand sanitizer have 60% or greater isopropyl alcohol to be effective against COVID-19 and other types of viruses.

However, 70% isopropyl alcohol solutions are especially effective, which is why we use 70% isopropyl alcohol in our hand sanitizer and other disinfecting products.

70% is the ideal concentration to be able to sanitize non-porous surfaces in addition to hands. These alcoholic solutions can permeate entire cells and coagulate certain proteins, ensuring that the microorganism is killed in the process.

But, this is a delicate balance. If you add too much water to a disinfectant solution, the alcohol might evaporate too quickly, so you don’t want to go below 60%.

When to Use Isopropyl Alcohol vs. Rubbing Alcohol

Remember, isopropyl alcohol is the key active ingredient in rubbing alcohol. But you should be aware that both products are defined and used in slightly different ways.

For instance, rubbing alcohol will almost always be called that name. It won’t be called “isopropyl rubbing alcohol” except in rare circumstances. Rubbing alcohol is specifically used for:

  • Disinfecting hard surfaces or flat tables
  • Disinfecting medical instruments or commonly held household objects
  • Disinfecting objects in the form of a spray

It’s often added to alcohol wipes for just this purpose. Our unscented isopropyl alcohol wipes use only that key active ingredient and several natural essential oils. This guarantees that the alcohol wipes can get the job done without introducing unnecessary chemicals or toxins to the environment. Plus, our wipes meet CDC standards!

Meanwhile, isopropyl alcohol is the primary ingredient in hand sanitizers, disinfecting sprays, rubbing alcohol, and a whole host of other cleaning products. You can’t really buy isopropyl alcohol by itself unless you have a license to create the products that might use the ingredient.

Summary

As you can see, isopropyl alcohol isn’t quite the same thing as rubbing alcohol. But, it is the primary and most important ingredient in effective rubbing alcohol formulas. While some rubbing alcohol formulas might use ethyl alcohol instead, we use isopropyl alcohol thanks to its unique benefits and the fact that it doesn’t dry out the skin quite so quickly.

We offer rubbing alcohol if you need extra assistance cleaning the surfaces of your household or the objects you and your family handle every day. We also use isopropyl alcohol in our other solutions, like our hand sanitizer. Check out both of those options to make sure your home is clean!

Sources

https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Isopropyl-alcohol

https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/hand-sanitizer-use.html

https://www.cdc.gov/infectioncontrol/guidelines/disinfection/disinfection-methods/chemical.html 

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