Most Americans have a powerful emergency preparedness tool in their medicine cabinets. That tool is rubbing alcohol. We tend to associate rubbing alcohol with wound cleaning, but there are far more uses for this multipurpose chemical. Specifically, there are several ways to use rubbing alcohol in emergency situations, which is why it is one of the household items preparedness experts always recommend stocking.
What exactly is this effective multipurpose chemical? Rubbing alcohol is isopropyl alcohol, which is sold in different grades or percentages. The most common rubbing alcohol found in grocery stores is 70% isopropyl alcohol, but you can also buy rubbing alcohol that has a higher percentage of isopropyl alcohol. The 90% version contains less water content. Generally, the 70% version is better for use on your skin. However, all of the uses we share below will work with both versions of rubbing alcohol.
The effectiveness of rubbing alcohol is clear from its name. According to ReAgent Chemicals, “The name ‘rubbing alcohol’ was coined in the United States in the 1920s, for two reasons. Firstly, the solution was used as a liniment in massages, and was literally rubbed in. […] Secondly, this was Prohibition-era and there was a need to distinguish rubbing alcohol from alcoholic beverages.” Not only was it termed “rubbing alcohol” for its effectiveness when rubbed into the skin, but it is called “the surgical spirit” in the United Kingdom for its effectiveness in medical procedures.
Whether you have a medical emergency or are in desperate need of fire for warmth, if you have a bottle of rubbing alcohol, you can survive. Here are 16 uses for rubbing alcohol in emergency situations.
- Disinfectant spray
One of the primary ways you can use rubbing alcohol is as a disinfectant. With it being difficult to find disinfectant these days due to supply chain disruptions, it is wise to know how to make your own. Here is a recipe from Culinary Solvent.
- 8 fluid oz, of 91% Isopropyl Alcohol
- 1 fluid oz tap water (1 Tablespoon = 0.5 fluid oz)
- Spray bottle
- Combine the 91% isopropyl alcohol with water in a clean spray bottle. Shake to mix well.
- Store the bottle away from sources of heat or direct sunlight. The mixture does not expire, and the contents will kill germs and viruses so long as the ABV (alcohol by volume) remains above 70%.
- Hand sanitizer
During an emergency, it is critical to keep your hands clean. That’s where hand sanitizer comes in handy. Unfortunately, we all remember how quickly hand sanitizer disappeared from the shelves this past spring. The good news is you can make your own, and the key ingredient is rubbing alcohol. Here is a recipe from The Spruce.
- 2/3 cup 99 percent rubbing alcohol (the 70% version is not as effective)
- 1/3 cup aloe vera gel
- 8 to 10 drops essential oil (optional)
- Bottle with a pump dispenser
- Gather ingredients.
- Add all ingredients together in your bowl and mix thoroughly with a spoon.
- Using the funnel, carefully pour your DIY hand sanitizer into the pump bottle, screw the top of your bottle on tight, and begin using.
- Fire starter
If you need to build a fire, rubbing alcohol works as an accelerant. It is highly flammable. You can either sprinkle rubbing alcohol on your fire tender or use the rubbing alcohol wipes in your first aid kit as tender.
- Sanitize sponges
Sponges are useful cleaning tools, but they need to be cleaned and sanitized often. Before using a sponge, soak it in rubbing alcohol to disinfect it.
- Tick removal
If you get bitten by ticks in the wilderness, you can use rubbing alcohol to help you remove them. Simply place a soaked cotton ball or wipe on the tick. This will make the tick release itself, so you can remove it easier with tweezers.
- Clear ears
If you have wax build-up or water in your ears, rubbing alcohol can help. Healthline suggests, “If you’ve got water in your ears […], mix a solution of 1/2 teaspoon rubbing alcohol and 1/2 teaspoon white vinegar. Pour or place the solution using a dropper into your ear while your head is to the side. Allow the solution to drain out.”
- Sterilize first aid equipment
In an emergency, you may not have access to clean first aid equipment. We’ve all seen television shows where the hero has to sterilize a knife to perform surgery outside of a hospital. Rubbing alcohol is the go-to sterilizer in these situations. All you need to do is submerge the tools in rubbing alcohol for a few seconds and then remove them.
- Clean wounds
The reason first aid kits contain alcohol wipes is that they are an effective way to clean a cut or wound. If you don’t have a wipe, you can pour rubbing alcohol on a paper towel or cloth.
- Treats nail fungus
If you have a nail fungus, you can soak your feet or hands in a bath with a mixture of rubbing alcohol and water. The rubbing alcohol will kill the bacteria causing the fungus under the nails. Repeat until the fungus is gone.
- Homemade ice pack
According to Healthline, “Ice packs can become shapeable thanks to rubbing alcohol. To make, combine one part alcohol with three parts water in a well-sealed plastic bag and place in the freezer. Before using, wrap a soft cloth around the bag and apply to any areas that need icing.”
- Soothe bug bites
Dab a cotton ball soaked in rubbing alcohol on a bug bite to soothe it.
- Defrost windows
If you live in a colder climate, rubbing alcohol can help you avoid frost on your windows. Clean My Space explains, “Mix 1 part rubbing alcohol to 5 parts water and spray the solution onto your exterior car windows and mirrors. Wipe with a cloth, and allow to dry. Repeat once every two weeks to keep up its efficacy.”
- Bug repellant
Not only does rubbing alcohol soothe bug bites, but it is also an effective bug repellant. Simply pour rubbing alcohol into a spray bottle and use it to spray fruit flies. Just make sure you avoid spraying the chemical on anything you plan to eat. You can also spray a mattress with rubbing alcohol to kill bed bugs.
- Rubbing sore muscles
As mentioned earlier, the name rubbing alcohol comes from literally rubbing the muscles using the chemical solution during massages. St. Luke’s Hospital suggests, “To use isopropyl alcohol for sore muscles, apply a generous amount to the skin and rub in until the alcohol dries.”
- Eases nausea
If you or someone in your group is feeling nauseated, a sniff of rubbing alcohol may help. According to Healthline, “An evidence review found the time to relief of postoperative nausea symptoms was 50 percent faster when smelling rubbing alcohol compared to traditional medications used to treat nausea, such as ondansetron (Zofran). Smelling rubbing alcohol can quickly help relieve nausea, usually when you smell a soaked cotton pad or ball.”
- Herbal liniments
Rubbing alcohol is a key ingredient for making herbal liniments, which are used to relieve pain and soreness. According to Mountain Rose Herbs, “Rubbing alcohol is typically used to make liniments because it extracts the herbal constituents and rapidly penetrates and evaporates from the skin,” and it will keep indefinitely. Here is their recipe for herbal liniments.
- Rubbing alcohol.
- Fresh or dried herbs. Popular choices are arnica, black pepper, calendula, cayenne, chamomile, comfrey, echinacea, eucalyptus, ginger, goldenseal, lavender, myrrh, oregano, peppermint, rosemary, St. John’s wort, thyme, and yarrow.
- Optional additions: essential oil(s) of choice.
- Place herbs in a clean glass jar. If using fresh herbs, chop them first.
- Cover thoroughly with rubbing alcohol and cap with a tight-fitting lid.
- Place the jar in a warm area and shake daily or as often as possible.
- After 4-6 weeks, strain the herbs out using cheesecloth.
- If desired, add essential oil(s). Pour the liniment into dark glass bottles.
- Make sure to label the liniment for “External Use Only.”
Warning! Do not use rubbing alcohol for internal purposes. Rubbing alcohol is not safe to drink.
Don’t overlook the power of rubbing alcohol, friends.
Preparedness Advisor, My Patriot Supply