What is rubbing alcohol in Australia?
Rubbing alcohol refers to a solution made of 70% isopropyl alcohol, with the rest made up of mostly water and other chemicals. It’s also referred to as a surgical spirit in the UK, or an ethanol-based liquid in the US. Regardless of the name, rubbing alcohol is always used as an antiseptic and cleaning solution.
You can find rubbing alcohol in every major supermarket: Coles, Bunnings, or Woolworths all sell different brands for different uses. It’s a toxic and flammable substance that’s best kept out of the reach of children.
The different kinds of alcohol
Isopropyl alcohol refers to the chemical isopropanol, used in a wide variety of industrial and commercial solutions. The grade of the solution (usually around 70% to 99%) determines how strong or how weak the alcohol will be. For example, the alcohol used in cleaning electronics is around 90 to 99% pure isopropyl, since it needs to evaporate off the delicate electronics quickly. Check either the Chemist Warehouse or Priceline if you ever need any.
Rubbing alcohol is also known as cleaning alcohol because of its use in removing germs, bacteria, and ingrained dirt. Made from 70% isopropyl, the rest of the solution is mixed with water so it doesn’t evaporate quickly on the skin. It’s the second most common kind of alcohol that we use, with the first being drinking alcohol.
Denatured alcohol is a general purpose alcohol that’s primarily used for commercial applications, like lighting cooking fires outdoors or an alternative form of fuel. Also known as methylated spirits, it’s a poisonous substance made mainly out of ethyl alcohol.
Rubbing alcohol substitutes
While rubbing alcohol contains lower amounts of isopropyl than the ones used in industrial solutions, it can still be quite harsh. If you’re looking for a good cleaning solution or disinfectant and can’t use rubbing alcohol, here are some substitutes:
- Sanitisers: Skin sanitisers are just as effective at killing bacteria and cleaning skin as rubbing alcohol. Some brands are even infused with moisturiser to make it extra gentle on your skin!
- Hydrogen peroxide: for topical or skin applications, hydrogen peroxide can be just as good or even better than rubbing alcohol. It’s inexpensive and gentler on the skin than most commercial alcohol brands and doesn’t sting as much.
- Vinegar: vinegar’s main ingredient is acetic acid, which gives it similar properties to the chemicals found in rubbing alcohol. It’s commonly used as a household cleaner, but it can also treat small skin conditions such as insect bites.
- Witch Hazel extract: witch hazel contains chemicals called tannins, which have antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties. A proven astringent, it works well with skin conditions like swelling, sunburn, and acne.
We recommend that you consult with your doctor or physician before trying any of these substitutes, especially if they have prescribed you rubbing alcohol for sanitary purposes. You can also ask your local pharmacist or chemist if they have any rubbing alcohol that is gentler on the skin, especially if you’re getting them for children or babies.
Whether you use your alcohol as a disinfectant or as a cleaning solution, knowing exactly what kind of it you’re getting is key to avoiding accidents. If you’re sensitive to rubbing alcohol, there are plenty of substitutes that are more gentle on the skin, so you never have to worry about germs!
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