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Can You Use Alcohol for First Aid? Understanding the Role and Types of Alcohol in First Aid Treatment

Alcohol has proven to be very useful when it comes to first aid treatment, in today's article we will talk about the role it plays and the types.

What is the role of alcohol in first aid treatment, what types of alcohol are commonly used?

Short Answer: Alcohol is used to treat wounds, disinfect instruments and sterilize surfaces

  • It can also be used as an antiseptic
  • Alcohol is found in sanitizers to disinfect the skin of a person 
  • Isopropyl alcohol is commonly used, and is referred to as rubbing alcohol 
  • Ethanol is another type of alcohol used in first aid treatment

Introduction to Alcohol and its Role in First Aid Treatment

Beyond its recreational and social use, alcohol has many other applications. In the medical field, it is utilized as:

  • An antiseptic and disinfectant to clean wounds 
  • Sanitize surfaces 
  • Sterilize medical equipment

Alcohol has short-term and long-term effects on the human body. In the short-term it acts as a central nervous system depressant, affecting brain function and impairing judgment, such as coordination, and reaction time.

A commonly used substance in first aid treatment, it is because alcohol has disinfectant and antiseptic properties. It is typically used in the form of rubbing alcohol, and has many benefits when it comes to wound care and sterilization.

It is important to use alcohol in moderation and follow the proper guidelines. Excessive or improper use of alcohol can cause dryness, skin irritation or tissue damage.

Let’s take a look at the key roles alcohol in first aid:

Wound cleaning

Alcohol, such as isopropyl alcohol or rubbing alcohol, is used to clean the skin surrounding minor cuts, scrapes or wounds.

It helps to remove dirt, debris, and bacteria from the affected area, to avoid infection.

Note that alcohol should not be applied directly on the wound, and this can delay the healing process and damage healthy tissue.

Surface sterilization

It is commonly used to sterilize surfaces in first aid settings. Countertops, equipment, and tools can be wiped down with alcohol to maintain a clean and sanitary environment.


Alcohol is an effective disinfectant and can be used to sterilize first aid instruments such as tweezers, thermometers and scissors.

It helps to eliminate bacteria and reduce the risk of contamination. Instruments can be dipped in or wiped with alcohol.

Note that while alcohol can be useful in certain first aid situations, it may not always be the preferred method for wound cleaning or disinfection.

Depending on the severity of the situation, mild soap and water or sanitary saline solution may be more appropriate.

Types of Alcohol Used in First Aid

In first aid, there are different types of alcohol used for various purposes. The common types used include:

Isopropyl Alcohol (rubbing alcohol)

A widely used alcohol in first aid due to its antiseptic properties. It is commonly found in concentrations of 70% or higher.

A known misconception about isopropyl is that higher the concentration the better, but according to experts, 70% is better.

It is a clear and colourless liquid that has a sharp odour.

Ethanol Alcohol

Ethanol is another type of alcohol used in first aid. It is typically used as a disinfectant.

It has antimicrobial properties and can be used to disinfect and sterilise surfaces in first aid settings.

Ethanol alcohol should be used in appropriate concentrations and following proper first aid protocols.

As it is with isopropyl alcohol, it is typically recommended to use solutions with concentrations of at least 70% ethanol.

It is extremely important to choose the right type of alcohol for the specific aid purpose. Follow the right protocols, using it in the recommended concentrations and applying it only to the appropriate areas.

At the same time, it is advisable to consult healthcare professionals or refer to specific product instructions for guidance on the correct use of alcohol in first aid situations.

Potential Risks and Side Effects of Using Alcohol in First Aid

Alcohol is beneficial in certain first aid situations, but it also comes with potential risks and side effects. Alcohol needs to be used in first aid with cautiousness and an understanding of these potential risks.

Let’s take a look at these risks and side effects associated with using alcohol in first aid:

Delayed wound healing

Applying alcohol directly to open wounds can delay the natural healing process and damage healthy tissue.

It can be harsh on the skin and interfere with the body’s ability to repair itself.

Risk of allergic reactions

There is the chance that some individuals may be allergic to alcohol, leading to skin rashes, hives and other allergic reactions upon contact.


Inhaling alcohol vapours in poorly ventilated areas can be very harmful, causing symptoms such as dizziness, nausea, and respiratory irritation as well.

Toxic ingestion

Ethanol alcohol used in first aid can be harmful if ingested accidentally, especially by young children.

It is essential to keep alcohol-containing products out of reach of children to avoid accidental ingestion.

Skin irritation

Alcohol can cause skin irritation, especially with repeated or prolonged use. Some individuals may be more sensitive to alcohol, leading to redness, itching of skin and dryness.

Ineffectiveness against certain pathogens

While alcohol is effective against many bacteria and some virtues, it may not be effective against certain resistant pathogens or spores.

Tissue damage

Using alcohol excessively or in high concentrations can damage healthy tissue. It may cause tissue dehydration and destruction, which can impede the healing process and lead to further complications.

If any adverse reactions occur during using alcohol in first aid, discontinue use immediately and seek medical attention if necessary.

Best Practices for Safe and Effective Use of Alcohol in First Aid

When using alcohol during first aid, safety is of the utmost importance and you need to follow the guidelines for effective use and minimal complications, these guidelines are:

Dilute alcohol properly

If using concentrated alcohol, such as isopropyl alcohol, dilute it to the recommended concentration.

70% is generally the amount of concentration required, but higher concentrations may be used for certain applications while following instructions provided.

Use with caution on sensitive area

Exercise caution when using alcohol on sensitive areas of the body, especially the face or genitals, as these areas can be prone to irritation.

Store alcohol safely

Store alcohol-containing products securely, out of the reach of children and away from heat or ignition sources.

Follow the storage instructions that have been provided on the packaging of the product.

Use correct type of alcohol

Choose the appropriate type of alcohol for the intended purpose. Isopropyl alcohol is used for skin cleaning and disinfection, while ethanol is used for surface disinfection.

Seek professional help when needed

If you have any concerns about using alcohol in a specific first aid situation or if the injury is severe, it is best to seek medical advice from healthcare professionals for proper assessment and treatment.

With these tips, you can ensure the safe and effective use of alcohol in first aid situations, minimising the risk of adverse effects.

For more information on treating wounds, you can read our article about antiseptic wipes here.

Antiseptic sprays seem to have a lot of myths about them, read about how we debunk them here.

Related Questions

Does sanitizer need to be included in a first aid kit?

It is beneficial and recommended to include sanitizer in any first aid kit, because of hand hygiene, in case there is an absence of water, as an additional precautionary measure, and for convenience as well.

The sanitizer needs to have at least 60% of alcohol content, as this is effective in killing most germs. Read the product label to ensure it meets this requirement. Opt for a travel-sized and compact hand sanitizer that fits in the kit and is easy to carry.

Can alcohol used for first aid be ingested?

No, alcohol used for first aid purposes, such as isopropyl or rubbing alcohol, should not be ingested. These types of alcohol are toxic and can be harmful if consumed orally.

Ingesting alcohol-based products can lead to serious health complications, including poisoning, liver damage and even death. First aid products contain high concentrations of alcohol and often include other additives that make them suitable for ingestion.


Alcohol has been widely used for first aid, with precaution and safety in mind.

We hope you find the information in our article helpful!


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