What is rubbing alcohol?
Rubbing alcohol refers to either isopropyl alcohol or ethanol based liquids, or the comparable British Pharmacopoeia defined surgical spirit, with isopropyl alcohol products being the most widely available. Rubbing alcohol is undrinkable even if it is ethanol based, due to the bitterants added.
They are liquids used primarily as a topical antiseptic. They also have multiple industrial and household uses. The term "rubbing alcohol" in North American English is a general term for either isopropyl alcohol (isopropanol) or ethyl alcohol (ethanol) products.
The United States Pharmacopeia defines 'isopropyl rubbing alcohol USP' as containing approximately 70 percent alcohol by volume (≈ 127º alcohol proof) of pure isopropyl alcohol and defines 'rubbing alcohol USP' as containing approximately 70 percent by volume of denatured alcohol. In Ireland and the UK, the comparable preparation is surgical spirit B.P., which the British Pharmacopoeia defines as 95% methylated spirit, 2.5% castor oil, 2% diethyl phthalate, and 0.5% methyl salicylate. Under its alternative name of "wintergreen oil", methyl salicylate is a common additive to North American rubbing alcohol products. Individual manufacturers are permitted to use their own formulation standards in which the ethanol content for retail bottles of rubbing alcohol is labeled as and ranges from 70-99% v/v.
All rubbing alcohols are unsafe for human consumption: isopropyl rubbing alcohols do not contain the ethyl alcohol of alcoholic beverages; ethyl rubbing alcohols are based on denatured alcohol, which is a combination of ethyl alcohol and one or more bitter poisons that make the substance toxic.
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