This site is reader-supported and we earn commissions if you purchase products from retailers after clicking on a link from our site. As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.
One common household product used to clean and sterilize is rubbing alcohol. But what, exactly, is this nature of this liquid: a mixture, compound, or solution?
Rubbing alcohol is a solution. The main component, isopropyl alcohol, is a compound. However, this compound is highly soluble in water and is diluted when used as an antiseptic. Rubbing alcohol can be purchased online or at any pharmacy, typically 70% or 90%.
This article will further explore the composition and uses of isopropyl alcohol solution. Read on to learn more.
What Makes Rubbing Alcohol a Solution?
As I mentioned earlier, rubbing alcohol is a solution of the compound isopropyl alcohol in water.
Therefore, understanding what rubbing alcohol is and how it is made requires a short lesson in basic chemistry.
Elements, Compounds, Mixtures, and Solutions
There are a few terms you need to know before I go any further. Think of them as the building blocks of chemical composition:
- Element – A certain kind of atom that contain the same amount of protons in their nuclei. They already exist in their simplest form and cannot be broken down any further. Example: Hydrogen (H), Carbon(C), Sodium (Na).
- Compound – A material that is formed from the chemical bonds between two or more elements. A well-known example is water, also known as H₂0 or Dihydrogen Oxide. The smallest unit of a compound is a molecule.
- Mixture – A combination of materials that do not bond together through a chemical reaction. Think of cereal and milk. The two materials are physically mixed, but they both remain their original chemical makeups and can be easily separated.
- Solution – A homogeneous mixture in which one or more solutes is dissolved into a solvent. For example, salt water is salt (NaCl) dissolved in Water (H₂0).
The Chemical Composition of Isopropyl Alcohol
The chemical term, alcohol, is defined as an organic compound whose molecule contains the elements Carbon (C), Hydrogen (H), and Oxygen (O).
There are many different types of alcohol. However, you may be most familiar with ethyl alcohol, which is used in alcoholic beverages.
Rubbing alcohol, as it is sold today, typically contains the compound isopropyl alcohol. This compound is an isomer of propanol or propyl alcohol.
Both isopropyl and propyl alcohol contains three atoms of carbon, eight of hydrogen, and oxygen. The atoms in isopropyl alcohol are arranged differently than those in propyl alcohol.
Therefore, isopropyl alcohol’s molecular formula is C₃H₈O, or, more specifically, CH₃CHOHCH₃.
How Isopropyl Alcohol Becomes Rubbing Alcohol
If you shop for rubbing alcohol at your local pharmacy, you’ll never see a bottle with the label 100% isopropyl alcohol. The compound, on its own, can be toxic.
However, once distilled or purified water is added to isopropyl alcohol, it becomes a suitable solution for use as a rubbing alcohol.
Note: Technically, the ethanol-water solution has less volume than the sum of its parts.
This is because there is enough space between the alcohol molecules for the water molecules to fit between.
So, mixing equal volumes of 100% ethanol and water will actually result in 1.92 volumes of solution.
A Brief History of Rubbing Alcohol
Isopropyl alcohol is the first commercially sold synthetic alcohol. In 1920, it was produced by chemists at the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey.
However, you may be familiar with this company by its present name, Exxon Mobil. It was produced as a petroleum by-product.
The solution known as rubbing alcohol emerged around the same period.
One of the earliest patents, “Compositions for application to the human skin,” was invented by William C Moore. The US Industrial Alcohol Company filed Moore’s patent in the early 1930s.
Uses of Rubbing Alcohol
Since its initial patent, rubbing alcohol has been utilized for a variety of different tasks.
Its uses encompass the realms of medical practice, home health, and household cleaning.
- Medical uses – Rubbing alcohol is most commonly known as an antiseptic. However, it has also been used to alleviate postoperative nausea. It can sometimes be used as a disinfectant for certain medical instruments. However, it can erode certain materials and should be used with caution in this regard.
- Home health – It can be diluted with water and used to evaporate water stuck in your ear. If you are a dog lover, you will be happy to know that rubbing alcohol can help remove ticks off of your pets’ skin. Small amounts can be applied topically to relieve muscle aches or as an astringent for skin. You can even spray some under your arms if you run out of deodorant.
- Household cleaning – It can handle multiple surfaces, including countertops, cabinets, mirrors, dry erase boards, and even stainless steel. Car owners can use rubbing alcohol to remove frost from their car windows. Certain clothing can benefit from it as well. A small amount can prevent collar rings or deodorize shoes. In this respect, it is fairly malleable.
Warning: It is important to note, rubbing alcohol should always be used with caution. The solution should not be ingested under any circumstance, as it is not made for consumption. Rubbing alcohol is not a topical remedy for fever.
The effect of it being absorbed through the skin is too dangerous. If you notice any allergic reactions after use, it is important to call 911.
Like other alcohols, it is highly flammable and should not be used near an open flame.
Where Can I Buy Rubbing Alcohol?
Rubbing alcohol is essential for any household first-aid kit. You can purchase it at your local pharmacy, grocery store, or even online.
Who knows, you may even have some hiding in your medicine cabinet. Here are a couple of suggestions to get you started.
This is one of Amazon’s best selling rubbing alcohols. Equate 70% Rubbing Alcohol ranks at number 2 in first-Aid ointments, only behind Neosporin.
Equate brand rubbing alcohol can be found in any store or pharmacy. However, if you’re in a bind, you’ll be happy to know that this household brand can be easily purchased online.
If you’re looking for something more concentrated, Belle Chemical’s Medical Grade Isopropyl Alcohol is a great option. Its medical-grade distinction is because it has met the current Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) standard of the Food & Drug Administration.
However, since it is highly concentrated, this product would be best applied after diluting with water or mixing with a lotion, like an aloe vera.
In short, rubbing alcohol is a solution of isopropyl alcohol and purified water. While Isopropyl Alcohol, alone, is a compound, it becomes a solution when combined with water.
Commercially, it has been produced synthetically since 1920. Rubbing alcohol’s most common use is as an antiseptic, but it is often repurposed for home health and household cleaning.
You can purchase rubbing alcohol online or at your local pharmacy.
I hope that this article has provided you enough information regarding this topic.