Rubbing alcohol is a versatile distillate that can be used for a wide range of applications, but what if you can’t get your hands on any? Ever since the COVID-19 Pandemic began, rubbing alcohol has been in short supply worldwide as more and more of it is used to create hand sanitizer.
So what can you use as a substitute for rubbing alcohol? Soap and water, white vinegar and bleach are the best substitutes for rubbing alcohol for cleaning surfaces. For wound disinfection, something like hydrogen peroxide is the best alternative to rubbing alcohol.
Throughout this guide, I’ll take a closer look at everything that rubbing alcohol can be used for, and I’ll list out alternatives that work well for that particular application. I’ll also answer a few pressing questions about rubbing alcohol, including elaborating on the various types that are on the market.
Rubbing Alcohol Substitute Table
Here’s a list of the things you can use to replace rubbing alcohol, organized by their function:
|Rubbing Alcohol substitute||What it can be used for|
|White vinegar||Cleaning, disinfecting|
|UV light sanitizers||Cleaning, disinfecting|
|Distilled spirits||Cleaning, disinfecting, sanitizing wounds|
|Hydrogen peroxide||Sanitizing wounds|
|Witch hazel||Sanitizing wounds|
What Can You Use Instead of Rubbing Alcohol?
If you don’t have rubbing alcohol at your disposal, you’ll have to define what you intend to use the rubbing alcohol for before you can find a replacement for it. Unfortunately, not all of the available replacements are as versatile as rubbing alcohol, with most of them exhibiting more specialized qualities.
Here are some of the things that rubbing alcohol can do:
- Disinfect surfaces
- Clean out wounds
- Decreasing body odor
These are just a few of the tasks that rubbing alcohol can accomplish, so you’ll have to pick out a few of them and then find individual replacements for these tasks.
For example, if you want to clean up around the house, then one of the more suitable replacements for rubbing alcohol would be white vinegar.
On the other hand, if you need to use something to disinfect your wounds, you’ll want to use hydrogen peroxide.
Since there are so many potential replacements for rubbing alcohol based on the application, let’s take a look at them one by one.
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1. White Vinegar
You may have heard stories about the cleaning powers of white vinegar, and while they may have been blown slightly out of proportion, it’s still one of the safest, most effective ways to clean out your home.
White vinegar works so well when it comes to cleaning things because it contains acetic acid that resulted from the fermentation process. This acid eats through dirt and grime and helps destroy grease, making it excellent for household cleaning tasks, especially in the kitchens or bathrooms.
One of the best things about white vinegar relative to rubbing alcohol is that it’s edible. You can drink a cup of white vinegar, and while it wouldn’t be a pleasant experience, it won’t result in immediately debilitating side-effects like rubbing alcohol.
For this reason, white vinegar is a popular choice of cleaner or disinfectant for families that have small children in the home. You’ve likely seen how children have a penchant for putting nearly anything in their mouths, and the last thing you want them doing is ingesting rubbing alcohol.
Another great thing about white vinegar is that it can help take over for rubbing alcohol when it comes to maintaining your skin’s health.
If you rely on rubbing alcohol to reduce itchy sensations from rashes or poison ivy, then you can turn to white vinegar and it will do exactly the same thing. The anti-inflammatory nature of acetic acid also makes white vinegar effective at treating ear infections, but always be sure to discuss your treatment options with your doctor before doing so.
One of the main weaknesses of white vinegar is that it lacks many of the anti-viral properties of rubbing alcohol, meaning that it’s not effective at stopping the transmission of viruses through surfaces. If you’re trying to sterilize your surroundings in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, you may want to avoid white vinegar.
While bleach is a lot more dangerous than white vinegar due to its high toxicity, that very characteristic also makes it more effective at killing viral pathogens and other organic threats. Whereas vinegar will struggle to kill more resilient organisms, bleach has no problem destroying those threats.
Of course, you’ll never want to use bleach on your body like you use rubbing alcohol because of how toxic it is. However, if you’re looking for the most effective surface sanitizer that you can use as an alternative to rubbing alcohol, then you’ll struggle to find something as effective as bleach.
As long as you’re careful while handling it, even a small amount of bleach can disinfect a large area just because of how potent it is. Most cleaning solutions use a ratio of one tablespoon of bleach per gallon of water, but this isn’t powerful enough to fully disinfect surfaces.
On the other hand, if you’re trying to disinfect and kill even the most resilient pathogens, you’ll have to increase the ratio of bleach to about ¾ of a cup per gallon. Bleach is similar to alcohol in that it doesn’t remain on the surfaces that you clean for a long time, making it relatively safe for household use.
Where rubbing alcohol begins to evaporate as soon as you clean with it, bleach will start breaking down after it spends a few hours on the surface that has been cleaned. In the meantime, be sure that no one touches or uses the cleaned surface to make sure that they aren’t accidentally exposed to the bleach.
3. UV Disinfecting Light
A specific type of UV light, known as UVC (Ultraviolet C), has been used in hospitals to disinfect places like surgery theaters for years. With the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, UVC sanitizers have entered the spotlight as a relatively efficient way to disinfect rooms.
While UVC can’t be used on your skin, as ultraviolet light has been proven to cause various skin cancers, you can use it to destroy any bacteria or viral pathogens that are lurking in your home. There are a few advantages to using a UV disinfecting lamp, especially in hospital settings.
Certain bacteria and pathogens can develop a resistance to methods that are used to kill them, and this is the underlying theory behind the “superbug” phenomenon. As drugs and other methods are used to kill a certain kind of bacteria, they will eventually grow resistant to them.
On the other hand, pathogens have a much harder time growing accustomed to concentrated UVC light, which does an excellent job of eradicating them.
A further benefit to UV sanitizers is that they’re not finite. Since they’re electronic devices, these sanitizers can be recharged when they’re running low and then re-used to keep the area clean.
Due to the potential side-effects of UV light, anyone using a UV sanitizer to clean out an area will have to be particularly careful to avoid any lasting damage to their DNA. These devices are best used by trained professionals to limit the risk associated with using them improperly and causing long-lasting side effects.
Yet another agent that you can use to sanitize surfaces, Lysol is one of the better-known options at your disposal, and it’s just as effective at eliminating bacteria as it is at killing viruses. In fact, Lysol has a list on their site of the exact products that they produce that are capable of killing the COVID-19 virus.
One of the best things about Lysol is its versatility, as it comes in both spray and disinfectant wipes. Whereas the wipes are effective at wiping down specific surfaces like shopping cart handles, Lysol spray allows you to disinfect a large area in a much quicker amount of time.
Even better, when using Lysol spray, you won’t have to worry about touching anything that you’re disinfecting, reducing the chance of any germs or particles being spread around.
Of course, much like bleach and UV disinfecting, you won’t want to put Lysol anywhere near your skin for extended periods of time and it has none of the health benefits offered by rubbing alcohol.
5. Distilled Spirits
Why not replace rubbing alcohol with alcohol of a different variety? While distilled alcohol made for drinking may be available in lower concentrations than rubbing alcohol, it may be easier to find than its non-drinkable counterpart, and it makes for a decent alternative.
Keep in mind that the cleaning effectiveness of your drinking alcohol depends on its percentage. Your typical 80 proof liquor will not be as effective at cleaning things as 99% ethanol rubbing alcohol, but it’s always possible to find more concentrated forms of alcohol like 160 proof rums and stronger Everclear.
Another advantage to distilled spirits over rubbing alcohol is that they’re drinkable, meaning that they’re safe to clean surfaces with. Keep in mind that this kind of alcohol isn’t child-friendly to clean with, as it can harm any child that unwittingly licks it up, so try to avoid using it with young children in the house.
Spirits like vodka can even be used as an alternative cleaner to rubbing alcohol for electronics.
Drinking alcohol can even be used to treat itchy skin and rashes, much like rubbing alcohol, so it’s one of the more versatile options on this list. A downside to using drinking alcohol for cleaning is that it tends to be much more expensive than rubbing alcohol because it has to be made safe for human consumption.
6. Hydrogen Peroxide
Hydrogen Peroxide, also known as H2O2, is a disinfectant that is commonly used alongside rubbing alcohol to treat wounds. While you likely have both in your medicine cabinet, you only ever really need either one or the other at a time, so if you’re looking for a good way to keep wounds clean amidst a rubbing alcohol shortage, look no further.
Peroxide is easily identified by the bubbling it causes when it contacts your blood, but under that flashy show, the chemical works at eating away harmful bacteria that may enter your wound. An advantage that hydrogen peroxide has over rubbing alcohol is that it doesn’t sting on application, making it a great choice for cleaning out children’s wounds.
Even though hydrogen peroxide is typically used to clean out wounds, it can also be used as a surface disinfectant in a pinch. It’s effectiveness at killing bacteria doesn’t stop if it’s not applied to your skin, so you can expect it to do a good job of killing bacteria on countertops and more.
One of the issues with using hydrogen peroxide for cleaning surfaces is that it’s often more expensive than alternatives like Lysol or bleach, so it may not be the most efficient option. Regardless, if you have some peroxide in your medicine cabinet and you need an immediate rubbing alcohol substitute, it does the trick.
7. Witch Hazel
Despite the scary name, this ointment won’t hex you or turn you into a frog. Instead, witch hazel is often used topically to help treat wounds, much like rubbing alcohol. Since witch hazel can be ingested with no side effects, it’s also an effective choice for treating wounds that children may have sustained.
Witch hazel is harvested naturally from trees, and it has no artificial ingredients that can potentially cause side effects. Some of the main benefits of using witch hazel include the soothing of inflamed skin (something that rubbing alcohol also does) and the treatment of sensitive skin.
Its anti-inflammatory properties also make witch hazel a popular treatment for acne. In addition to being used topically, witch hazel can also be consumed orally to provide its many benefits.
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