Whats the difference between rubbing alcohol and isopropyl alcohol?

Picture this: you’re at your local drugstore, scouring the cleaning supplies section for something to sanitize your hands with. Suddenly, two different bottles of liquid catch your eye: one labeled rubbing alcohol and another labeled isopropyl alcohol. You start wondering, what’s the difference? Are they interchangeable? Can you drink them? Don’t worry – we’re here to help clear things up!

Classification and Composition

First of all, both rubbing and isopropyl alcohols are classified as antiseptics, which means they can kill or prevent growth of microorganisms such as bacteria or viruses. However, their composition differs slightly.

Rubbing alcohol usually refers to a solution that contains about 70% ethanol (ethyl alcohol) mixed with water. Some variations may also contain other ingredients such as hydrogen peroxide or glycerin.

On the other hand, isopropyl alcohol (also known as 2-propanol) is typically made from combining propylene – obtained from fossil fuels – with sulfuric acid followed by hydrolysis reaction with water. It may come in various concentrations ranging from pure substance (~99%) to diluted solutions around 70%.

Overall, although both substances are transparent liquids that have pungent smells when exposed to air due to rapid volatilization into gases (pretty cool stuff if you ask us!), they differ in terms of chemical structure.

Common Uses

Due to their antiseptic properties,rubbing and isopropyl alcohols can be used in a variety of ways, including:

Cleaning Wounds

Both types are often used for cleaning minor cuts or scrapes before bandaging them up.

Bonus tip: If you accidentally pour some on an open wound while trying to take a swig out of it because you got confused with your drinking bottle (seriously, don’t do that!) then it can also help numb the pain since they have cooling effects – but we wouldn’t recommend making a habit of it.

Cleaning Surfaces

Rubbing and isopropyl alcohols are effective at disinfecting surfaces, such as counter-tops or electronic devices without leaving visible streaks.

Pro-tip: If you’re looking to clean your glass windows or mirrors, add some vinegar solution to rubbing alcohol for an even better result!

Body Care Products

Isopropyl alcohol may be used as an ingredient in hand sanitizers, aftershave lotions, skin tonics and other cosmetic products due to its antibacterial properties.

Note: While both types of alcohols can serve these purposes similarly,rubbing alcohol should NOT be swallowed, because it contains methanol – which can lead to blindness if ingested. Isopropyl alcohol may cause intoxication, nausea or central nervous system depression when consumed or inhaled excessively.


When choosing between rubbing and isopropyl alcohols for purchase, there are a few things you might want to consider:

Concentration levels

As mentioned earlier,isopropyl alcohol mostly comes in high concentration levels while their counterpart hovers around 70% ethanol. This means that using pure isopropanol requires appropriate safety gear (such as gloves) when handling – as well as dilution before use in cleanliness tasks around home- whereas rubbing alc already diluted doesn’t have such requirements.

Another bonus tip: One major difference between cheaply available Rubbing Alcohol vs expensive disinfectants/pure antiseptic liquids would mainly involve efficacy on degree of bacterial/viral infection control achieved giving usability additional advantage over less harsher chemicals/lower concentrated/comparatively ineffective cleaning solutions.

Price and Packaging size

Isopropyl alcohol can be purchased in cheaper bulk quantities ranging from 1 liter to 20 liters for industrial purposes, while rubbing alcohol comes in smaller bottle sizes making it convenient for household use.

Pro-tip:If you’re ever worried about money and want to save some cash by buying isopropanol instead of flashy brand labeled sanitizers or probably have a bunch lying around after disinfecting an entire village – just dilute it with water until the mixture reaches around 70% ethanol concentration.


To sum up,the difference between rubbing alcohol and isopropyl alcohols lies primarily on their chemical structure and classification, while sharing similar uses. They’re not interchangeableand should never be ingested- unless you really need a reason to visit your doctor! Remember: Safety rules always apply when handling substances such as these cleaners so keep chemicals away from flames or smoking environment(no burning down houses please!),wear protective equipment if applicable,and store them out of reach of children/pets.

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