You’ve heard of alcohol in a variety of contexts: rubbing alcohol, distilled alcohol, denatured alcohol, isopropyl alcohol, and so on.

But they’re not all the same and they’re not all ideal for disinfecting every surface.

When it comes to infection control and disinfecting surfaces, we recommend isopropyl alcohol.

In fact, that’s what our GermBlast Infection Control experts use as part of our GermBlast service for healthcare facilities and mobile equipment.

Here’s why.

What is Isopropyl Alcohol?

Isopropyl alcohol, also known as isopropanol, is a clear, colorless liquid.

For those who appreciate the sciencey side of things like we do, isopropyl alcohol is made up of three carbon atoms, eight hydrogen atoms, and one oxygen atom and has the chemical formula C3H8O.

When you smell isopropyl alcohol, you’ll notice it has a strong odor similar to that of hard liquor. However, it is not drinkable.

Isopropyl alcohol is not always the same as rubbing alcohol. When you buy rubbing alcohol at the store, you’re either getting isopropyl alcohol or other ethanol-based liquids. Be sure to check the label to see exactly what you’re getting.

Why Do Experts Use it to Disinfect?

Isopropyl alcohol is a go-to tool for disinfecting surfaces in healthcare facilities, scientific laboratories, and in our own GermBlast infection control service because of its incredible ability to destroy one-celled organisms like bacteria.

More specifically, it damages the cell walls of one-celled organisms. That sort of damage is devastating to even the tiniest bacteria and the bacteria is no longer able to function without an intact cell wall.

In human terms, this would be like losing all of your bones and skin (not a pretty thought – we know). Without any structure to your body, you wouldn’t be able to function.

However, that’s not all that it has going for it as a cleaning agent. One of the best things about isopropyl alcohol is that it evaporates quickly and leaves absolutely zero residue behind.

No oily surfaces, no streaks, no surface damage, no lingering bacteria – job well done!

In most household cleaners containing isopropyl alcohol, you’ll also find quaternary ammonium. Quaternary ammonium compounds (also known as QACs or Quats) are also able to destroy a broad spectrum of bacteria and supplement the strength of isopropyl alcohol.

Is Isopropyl Alcohol Dangerous?

While we’re big fans of isopropyl alcohol here at GermBlast, it’s not perfect. First of all, it’s flammable, especially in highly concentrated varieties. In stores, isopropyl alcohol is typically sold as 70% or 91% concentration. The higher the concentration, the more flammable the liquid is. So keep it away from open flames.

It can also irritate your respiratory tract if you inhale it or its fumes, which is why all of our GermBlast technicians where safety equipment while using it. When you handle isopropyl alcohol, be sure to wear an N-95 respirator (like this one) to protect yourself.

In high concentrations, isopropyl alcohol may also cause some people to feel lightheaded or dizzy. You may experience headaches or drowsiness after prolonged exposure, as well – all the more reason to wear a good face mask while working with it.

Unlike hard alcohol that’s meant for drinking, isopropyl alcohol can be toxic if ingested. If it’s swallowed, common symptoms include:

  • Abdominal cramps
  • Loss of coordination
  • Nausea
  • Slurred speech
  • Vomiting

If someone ingests isopropyl alcohol, call Poison Control at 800-222-1222 right away or use the webPOISONCONTROL® online tool for help.

To prevent accidents, keep any isopropyl alcohol you have in your home stored in a locked cabinet on a high shelf. Do not leave bottles of it unattended, especially when children are around.

In the right hands, it’s an incredible tool in the fight against the spread of infection. At GermBlast, we have an arsenal of isopropyl alcohol-based disinfectants for home or office use.

If you have any questions about isopropyl alcohol or infection control, let us know in the comments below.