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What is Rubbing Alcohol?

Updated: Apr 19

rubbing alcohol

In the USA, most people know the term Rubbing Alcohol. However, in the UK many consumers are confused by the term. But it’s a product we have here, commonly known as Isopropyl alcohol or Surgical Spirit.


In this Article:


What is Rubbing Alcohol UK?

Rubbing alcohol refers to one specific type of product, isopropyl alcohol. Here in the UK, this is commonly called Surgical Spirit. If you’re not familiar, rubbing alcohol has a myriad of uses and is a versatile household item.

Rubbing alcohol comes in different formulations, from 70 to 90%, with water making up the remainder. It has antiseptic properties and evaporates to leave no residue.


Medical Uses for Rubbing Alcohol

It might surprise many people searching “What is rubbing alcohol UK” to discover that rubbing alcohol is often applied to cuts and scrapes. Yes, it does sting! Despite that, rubbing alcohol or surgical spirit is often added to first aid kits, as it is a natural anti-bactericidal treatment and is also effective against fungi and viruses.

Rubbing alcohol can also be used on surfaces to disinfect them, though care should be taken, as it is possible for rubbing alcohol to damage surfaces.

The medical uses go beyond simply cleaning cuts. As a liniment, it can be massaged or rubbed, hence the name, onto skin to soothe aching muscles. Additionally, the smell of rubbing alcohol has been found to provide quicker relief for nausea than many other products formulated for that purpose.


Household uses for Rubbing Alcohol

spraying rubbing alcohol on a table

Around the house, there are many uses for rubbing alcohol such as:

  • Cleaning Blinds and Whiteboards

  • Disinfecting surfaces and Phones

  • Dissolving Windshield Frost

  • Cleaning Jewellery

  • Refreshing Sponges

  • Cleaning Shoes

The use of rubbing alcohol extends to numerous household cleaning tasks. It can bring back the shine to sinks and chrome, deodorise shoes, clean jewellery and disinfect electronic devices. It is highly effective in removing ink and permanent marker stains, cleaning stainless steel, and even preventing rings around the collar underscores its value in household maintenance.


Warnings and Safety Tips

When pondering what is rubbing alcohol UK consumers should also be considering what type is suitable for their home use. Rubbing alcohol comes in different strengths and their suitability for skin contact varies depending on their percentage of alcohol to water.

While it’s possible to buy rubbing alcohol in 90% formulas, that is much too strong for contact with your skin.

Typically formulas at 70% concentration are recommended for being both effective and safe, though you will experience dry skin with repeated use.

Isopropyl alcohol acts as a natural astringent, helping to tighten pores and refresh skin, albeit with caution to avoid dry areas as it will cause irritation from further drying and has the potential for causing a burning sensation on sensitive areas.

It's vital to never ingest rubbing alcohol or use it inappropriately on the skin, especially for fever reduction. In addition, all concentrations of rubbing alcohol are flammable and so must not be used when near open flames or by people who are smoking.

If you experience an allergic reaction, seek immediate medical attention.


What Not to Use Rubbing Alcohol For

Despite its numerous benefits, there are instances where rubbing alcohol should not be employed, such as treating acne, fevers, or for lice treatment, due to the potential for adverse effects.



Hopefully, you now have an understanding of what rubbing alcohol is, or as we more commonly call it, surgical spirit, and its numerous applications—from first aid to home health to household cleaning. Given the benefits listed above, it should come as no surprise that many alcohol-based hand sanitisers are made from isopropyl alcohol, and most readers will have been using it frequently over the past few years. While there are many uses for this product, it's crucial to heed the safety advice and be aware of its limitations and potential hazards.


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