Q:

Does rubbing alcohol disinfect?

A:

Quick Answer

Rubbing alcohol that is formulated to include 70 percent isopropyl alcohol is a highly effective disinfectant, according to About.com. HealthE explains that it evaporates quickly, leaving surfaces ready to use.

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Full Answer

While isopropyl alcohol is useful as a surface disinfectant, the CDC reports that the FDA has not approved any products using alcohol as the main active ingredient as a high-level disinfectant for health care settings. While alcohols kill most bacteria, fungi and viruses, they are incapable of killing bacterial spores. Use of alcohol-cleaned surgical instruments contaminated with such spores has the potential of spreading deadly infections.

The CDC explains that the use of alcohol for disinfection causes harm to some equipment. The solvent dissolves shellac mountings and causes rubber and plastics to harden and swell, especially with repeated use. It also tends to bleach the color from rubber or plastic materials, such as floor tile. In some uses, it softens and deteriorates glue. Before choosing alcohol as a disinfectant, the consumer should consider the surface material.

Alcohol disinfection takes time. While its rapid evaporation is beneficial for the drying of surfaces, the CDC reports it causes difficulty in providing the extended exposure time unless the tool is immersed in the solution. About.com warns that rubbing alcohol sold in the United States is toxic to inhale, ingest or apply to the skin, requiring workers to limit their exposure when using it as a disinfectant.

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