That Wasn’t Water!
The Toxicity of Rubbing Alcohol
A busy day is now an even busier evening. You
rush to prepare dinner while also keeping an eye on your toddler.
Together, you’re reciting the names of some animals. Suddenly, you
sense that the room is a little too quiet. You turn and see him
bringing a bottle of rubbing alcohol to his mouth. He takes a sip
like he would out of a water bottle! You drop everything you’re
doing and run over to him. How in the world was he able to reach
over the counter where the bottle was? And how did he manage to open
the cap? The face he makes tells you he hates the taste. But,
he did drink a mouthful of it. What do you do
Rubbing alcohol is a very common household
item. You can buy it in any drug or grocery store. It is very
effective in killing bacteria; in many households, it is the go-to
item to clean minor cuts and scrapes. It is colorless, flammable and
has a very strong odor of alcohol.
The main ingredient of rubbing alcohol is
isopropyl alcohol. Rubbing alcohol is commonly 70% isopropyl
alcohol, but the percentage ranges from 60% to 99% isopropyl
The Poison Control Center is often called about
children who drank a sip of rubbing alcohol. Sometimes, they drink
it by mistake after it is poured into a cup or water bottle. Because
it tastes so strong, they usually don’t drink much. In general,
swallowing such small amounts of rubbing alcohol leads to very few
Isopropyl alcohol is different from the
alcohol found in liquor, beer and wine. This kind of alcohol is
known as ethanol or ethyl alcohol. Rubbing alcohol is
sometimes abused, even though it is not meant to be swallowed. It is
cheaper than liquor. It is widely available. It can cause a feeling
of intoxication. But isopropyl alcohol is much more potent than
Someone who swallows isopropyl alcohol can act
drunk. Effects include sedation, slurred speech, unsteadiness when
walking, and vomiting. Isopropyl alcohol is also extremely
irritating to the digestive tract. Drinking a lot of it can cause
vomiting, diarrhea, pain, and bleeding in the stomach and
intestines. This can lead to dehydration, low blood pressure, shock,
Rubbing alcohol can also be toxic when inhaled.
It should be used in a well-ventilated area. In addition, because it
is flammable, it should always be kept away from
In the never-ending battle to stay one step
ahead of your toddler, here are a few tips to help you win (or at
least catch-up) and prevent poisoning from rubbing alcohol:
Always keep rubbing alcohol stored up and out of reach of children.
Never transfer it from its original bottle
to another container.
Always use rubbing alcohol in a
Never swallow rubbing alcohol to get drunk.
It is not the same as ethanol! Drinking it can cause dangerous
Call the Poison Control Center right away if
someone swallows rubbing alcohol. Do not try to make the
person throw up! Do not wait to see what will happen! The
24-hour number is 1-800-222-1222.
A poison center expert will tell you exactly what to do.