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Is Isopropyl Alcohol the Same as Rubbing Alcohol?

  • by GR0
  • 5 min read

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.

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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 concentrationsbetween 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
  • Hand Sanitizer
  • Multi-Purpose Cleaner
  • And more

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Rubbing Alcohol: An Overview

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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! Ourrubbing 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.

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.

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.

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Is Isopropyl Alcohol Used in Hand Sanitizer? 

Yes. Isopropyl alcohol is the main ingredient used in high quality hand sanitizers. Most hand sanitizers use combinations of alcohol, water, essential oils and other gel-like ingredients to create the final product.

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

  • Isopropyl alcohol does not dry out the skin.
  • Isopropyl alcohol evaporates quickly. This allows it to destroy cells rapidly without leaving the surface wet.
  • Isopropyl alcohol does not leave a lingering odor 
  • Isopropyl alcohol evaporates more quickly than ethanol.
  • Isopropyl alcohol is effective at killing various types of cysts and fungi.

We use isopropyl alcohol in all ofour hand sanitizer and cleaning products 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 strictlybetterfor hand sanitizers, however there are some pretty noticeable differences between the two types.

Many companies use ethyl alcohol instead of isopropyl alcohol, in part because it is cheaper to come across.

For instance, several distilleries for alcoholic beverages now produce hand sanitizer as a side venture since they have tons of ethyl alcohol sitting around. These sanitizers typically leave a foul "cocktail" smell on the hands that most find unpleasant.

Still, we prefer isopropyl alcohol for our own formula, combined with essential oils to keep your hands hydrated and refreshed.

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 CDCspecifically 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 Dr.Brite use 70% isopropyl alcohol in 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%.

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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. Rubbing alcohol is specifically used for:

  • Disinfecting hard surfaces
  • Disinfecting medical instruments
  • Cleaning wounds or cuts
  • Cleaning jewelry or piercings 

Meanwhile, isopropyl alcohol is the primary ingredient in Dr.Brite's hand sanitizers. We mix in a blend of essential oils, making the perfect mixture fit for hydrating hands and preventing cracking. Hand sanitizer should only be used on the hands for its intended purpose.


As you can see, isopropyl alcohol isn’t quite the same thing as rubbing alcohol. They both serve a purpose in the fight against germs and bacteria and hold different roles in your household. In short, keep in mind the key uses for the two types:

Isopropyl Alcohol:

  • Surface Wipes
  • Surface Spray
  • Hand Sanitizer

Rubbing Alcohol:

  • Cleaning Minor cuts and scraps
  • Disinfecting metal tools or surfaces
  • Sterilizing jewelry or piercings 

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