There’s a lot of confusion around what rubbing alcohol is used for. Most people keep it in their bathroom and use it as a disinfectant for cuts or as a sterilizer for things like tweezers. But there are other great household uses, too. Ranging from general household cleaning to tick removal, rubbing alcohol is a cleaning workhorse that’s just always good to have on hand.

What is rubbing alcohol?

Rubbing alcohol became popular in the 1920’s as a liniment used to rub into wounds. Hence the name, rubbing alcohol. It hasn’t changed drastically in composition since then and remains a clear liquid derived from either isopropyl alcohol or ethanol based liquids. Added bitterants keep it from being drinkable, but help it work as a wonderful topical anesthetic. Along with many other uses.

We asked Linda Cobb, a.k.a. “The Queen of Clean” and author of the best-selling book Talking Dirty With the Queen of Clean, for her favorite tricks. “Rubbing alcohol can be a very effective cleaner,” says Cobb, “but not for everything.” Though commonly touted on the web as a wonder cleaner capable of handling everything from cleaning makeup brushes to soothe a sunburn, Cobb says it can dry out both your brushes and skin, so steer clear.

Then, what is rubbing alcohol used for? Try these 13 ideas:


All-purpose stain remover

Combined with water, rubbing alcohol can be a great spot remover that works on a wide variety of stains from ink to coffee, says Cobb. Combine one part rubbing alcohol with two-parts water to make the spotter. If you use a large spray bottle you can add one bottle of alcohol and two of the alcohol bottles filled with water. Spray this on spots and spills. Wait a few minutes, then launder as usual.


Bathroom cleaner

“Wet a cloth or paper towel with rubbing alcohol and rub firmly on bathroom fixtures,” says Cobb.

Buff with a soft cloth or dry paper towel. “This works well for water spots, too,” she adds.


Window cleaner

This formula from Cobb uses no water. Combine one pint rubbing alcohol, two tablespoons of ammonia and two tablespoons liquid dish soap.  Apply to the window using a nylon-covered sponge, rinse and buff dry. “This is also great for screen stains, hard-water spots and bird stains,” she says.


Shoe polisher

“If you’re polishing shoes, first rub them with a little undiluted rubbing alcohol,” says Cobb.“The polish will go on smoother.”


Grass stain remover

Grass stains can be particularly difficult to get out. “Undiluted rubbing alcohol works wonders on grass stains,” says Cobb.  Work it into the stain, let sit 10 minutes and launder as usual.


Appliance cleaner

Mix two parts rubbing alcohol and one part water in a spray bottle.  Spray on your appliances and buff clean. This also works on stainless steel appliances and leaves them streak-free.


Sneaker deodorizer

If your running shoes smell funky, this can work to take away the smell, but the smelly areas needs to be saturated, says Cobb. Take rubbing alcohol, put some in a spray bottle and spray inside the shoes. Let dry overnight, and the odor should be gone.


Tick remover

This is a popular tip from around the web, which works sometimes, but not always, says Cobb. “The idea is to stun the tick with the rubbing alcohol so it lets go and is easy to remove,” says Cobb. There’s no harm in trying. If you’ve got a tick, put rubbing alcohol on a cotton ball and gently rub it on the area with the tick. Then use tweezers, as usual, to remove.


Remove garlic smell from hands

If you can’t get the smell off your hands, pour rubbing alcohol onto hands and work in really well, then wash hands as usual with soap and water.


Nail polish remover

This works in a pinch if you don’t have real nail polish remover in the house. Put some rubbing alcohol onto a cotton ball and rub over the polish. It might take some rubbing, but the polish will come off.


Windshield washer fluid

“Combine one quart of rubbing alcohol, one cup water and two tablespoons liquid dishwashing soap or laundry detergent,” says Cobb. “This solution should not freeze even at 30 degrees below zero.”


Electronics Cleaning

Rubbing alcohol is commonly used to clean electronics such as keyboards, computer screens, and mobile phones. It helps to remove dirt, dust, and smudges without leaving streaks or damaging the sensitive components.


Jewelry Cleaner

Rubbing alcohol can be used to clean jewelry, especially metal-based pieces. Soak the jewelry in rubbing alcohol for a few minutes, then gently scrub with a soft brush and rinse thoroughly.

This is an update by Hella Staff to an article previously published in September 2020 written by Ellen Breslau.