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There are certain things in this world that are just mind-bogglingly useful. Bobby pins? Extremely useful. Cooking spray? You’re definitely not getting the most out of it. Cling wrap? How can’t you use it? Pool noodles? You could be solving so, so many problems using them.
Add to the pantheon of incredibly useful stuff you thought had just one simple application that humble bottle of rubbing alcohol you’ve got stashed under your sink. Isopropyl alcohol was first synthesized back in 1920, and in the ensuing century-plus most of us use it as a quick antiseptic or solvent. And while that alone makes rubbing alcohol pretty useful, there’s a long list of other applications you could—and, honestly, should be using this stuff for.
A few quick cautions, though, because some folks see the word “alcohol” and think this stuff is perfectly safe—it’s not. If you use it with a tiny bit of common sense you’re fine. It doesn’t need to be said that you can not drink rubbing alcohol—this stuff will absolutely kill you. It’s also dangerous to get too much of it on your skin—a small amount as an astringent, antiseptic, or cleanser is fine, but if your skin absorbs too much of it, it can be pretty toxic. It’s also flammable, so keep it away from open flames. Oh, and it will produce poison gas if mixed with bleach, so don’t do that.
With the safety lecture out of the way, here are all the ways you can use rubbing alcohol to make your life better.
Cleaning and disinfecting
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Considering that being an antiseptic is one of the best-known properties of rubbing alcohol, it’s no surprise that it’s very useful as a household disinfectant and cleaner. One thing to know about isopropyl alcohol and cleaning, however, is that less is more: While you can buy rubbing alcohol in 99% strength, you’re better off using a 70% concentration for most cleaning and disinfecting applications. The extra water in the weaker formulations makes it counterintuitively more effective.
You can use rubbing alcohol to clean a wide range of things:
Grooming tools. All the stuff you use to shave, clip, and beautify can be disinfected with a brisk wipe-down using rubbing alcohol. Most surfaces. You can use rubbing alcohol to clean most of your kitchen surfaces, including your countertops (unless they’re natural stone), chrome fixtures, glass, and stainless steel. It will kill germs and leave behind no spots or residue. Keep it away from natural stone (like granite), wood, and other porous stuff, though—it can damage those materials. Keyboards, mice, and devices. Have you looked at your keyboard and mouse recently? Chances are they are what scientists call absolutely filthy—and so is your phone, by the way. Luckily, you can clean them very effectively with a cloth and some rubbing alcohol. Jewelry. Jewelry is often overlooked at cleaning time, but it sits in contact with our skin all day and experiences every bit of dirt and grossness our bodies do. Give it a good spritz with some isopropyl alcohol and it will shine like new—and be healthier. Permanent marker. As it turns out, permanent marker isn’t so permanent after all. If you accidentally mark up a surface, rubbing alcohol can make it go away with a little persistence. It can also clean up dry-erase boards that have become clogged with the shadowy ghosts of past presentations or grocery lists. Upholstery. If your furniture needs to be cleaned with a water-free solvent, you can make your own with rubbing alcohol. Just spray it on stains and gently rub with a soft brush. Sponges. The sponge you’re using to wash your dishes and clean your kitchen is filthy. Soak it overnight in rubbing alcohol and it will be bacteria- and stink-free. Weed stuff. Your gear can get really gross over time. Rubbing alcohol is a terrific way to make your bongs and pipes sparkle.
Get rid of pests on plants
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If you’re trying to bring some greenery into your home but your plants are under attack from mealybugs, whiteflies, or aphids, wiping them down with rubbing alcohol can clear up that infestation very quickly, saving your poor plants.
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You probably learned this one during the early days of the pandemic. Since then, hand sanitizer has become a staple of just about everyone’s home, handbag, and gym bag in the last few years for, er, reasons. You can save a bit of money and ensure your own supply by making your own—just mix two parts rubbing alcohol (70% concentration) with one part aloe vera gel, shake well, and squirt away.
DIY cold packs
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Having a cold pack in the freezer to use on injuries or during really hot days is a good idea. Instead of buying one from a store like a sucker—or if you’re caught out without one on hand—you can make one by mixing one part 70% rubbing alcohol with three parts water in a freezer bag. Leave in the freezer for a few hours and you’ll have a perfectly usable cold pack.
De-ice your windshield
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Winter weather means occasionally waking up to a car that’s more of an ice sculpture of a vehicle than a usable conveyance. Instead of scraping the ice, combine one part water and two parts rubbing alcohol and put it into a spray bottle. The alcohol will lower the freezing temperature of the water, melt the ice, and then evaporate politely.
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If you’ve got a label, sticker, or extremely stubborn bandage that refuses to let go of your jars, windows, or flesh, take a paper towel and soak it in rubbing alcohol. Then drape the towel over the adhesive or its residue and let it sit for a few minutes. The alcohol will dissolve the adhesive and you can just scrape away what’s left behind. If the first try doesn’t quite do it, just repeat until it’s all gone.
Remove ink stains
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Did a pen break and stain your favorite shirt? If you act fast, you can clean it up with isopropyl alcohol. The trick here is to act before the ink dries out and sets in. Dampen a pad, sponge, or even a paper towel with rubbing alcohol and let it sit on top of the stain for a few minutes. When the pad is visibly darkened from having absorbed ink, replace it with a fresh one. Repeat until all the ink has been sucked out.
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If you’re feeling nauseous you might consider taking medication to help settle your stomach, but if you want a different approach you can try soaking something with rubbing alcohol and sniffing the fumes. Studies have shown this can be just as effective as many prescription medications when dealing with temporary nausea. Just be sure you’re in a well-ventilated place, and keep in mind the effect is temporary.
Emergency deodorant (and general deodorizing)
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Stink is a part of life, but most of the foul odors we have to deal with are caused by our old friends, bacteria. And bacteria and rubbing alcohol are not friends at all, so you can use it to keep things smelling fresh—starting with your own armpits, which are basically resorts for bacteria. Just wiping down your pits with rubbing alcohol should eliminate most body odor for a time—but only do this when you have no other option, as repeated applications can dry out the skin and it can sting like hell if you’ve recently shaved.
You can also deodorize your shoes by spraying them down with some rubbing alcohol and letting them dry out. And rubbing alcohol is also great for deodorizing/cleaning mircofiber upholstery that’s gotten a little funky. In all three of these use cases you can also consider adding some essential oils to the alcohol for a clean, fresh scent—a few drops will do.
Nail polish remover
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If you’ve run out of nail polish remover, isopropyl alcohol will do the job in a pinch. Soak a cotton ball and let it sit on your nail for a few seconds, then start rubbing gently. With a bit of effort, your polish will come off without the need to run to the store.