Everything You Wanted to Know About Isopropyl Alcohol

In recent times, people have started giving more importance to disinfectants and sanitizers. With the COVID-19 pandemic wreaking havoc on the planet, the need for disinfectants has surged substantially.

When we talk about disinfectants and sanitizers, isopropyl alcohol (IPA) is the most common name associated with them. Over the years, isopropyl alcohol has been used in the making of hand sanitizers, rubbing alcohol, and certain cleaning products.    

Everything You Wanted to Know About Isopropyl Alcohol

With people starting showing a sudden interest in this chemical compound, this made us realize that you would want to know more about it. As a result, we have created this post that explains everything you need to know about isopropyl alcohol, including what it is, what are its applications, the industries it is used in, and much more.  

So, without further ado, let’s get started.  

Isopropyl Alcohol – an overview  

Isopropyl alcohol is more in demand than ever before. It is a disinfectant in its concentrated form, and you can use it for making homemade hand sanitizers. Given the fact that there is a shortage of hand sanitizers in the market and that the prices are tripled, making your own hand sanitizer is a feasible option.  

Nevertheless, isopropyl alcohol is having a moment like never before. More and more people are searching for it on the internet, looking for the best ways to use it. But people have a lot of questions regarding it and are confused about its myriad of uses.  

What is isopropyl alcohol?  

Isopropyl alcohol, also known as 2-propanol, is a member of the alcohol family of organic compounds. The chemists at the Standard Oil Company in New Jersey produced isopropyl alcohol first in 1920. It was the first-ever commercial synthetic alcohol to be produced.   

Isopropyl alcohol is synthesized from the reaction of sulfuric acid and propylene, followed by hydrolysis.  

It is the most commonly used disinfectant within cleanrooms, hospitals, and pharmaceutical companies. What’s interesting is that isopropyl alcohol is even used in the purification of medical devices and electronics manufacture. Isopropyl alcohol comes in a number of purity grades, and hence, they are produced for different use.  

Depending on how concentrated isopropyl alcohol is, it can get rid of all sorts of impurities, bacteria, and viruses. This is the reason why the chemical compound is considered the best ingredient for producing cleaning chemicals and disinfectants.   

Different alcohol types, concentrations, purity grades, and solutions yield beneficial disinfection and cleaning properties when applied correctly. However, they can pose a threat if used improperly.  

Isopropyl alcohol is exclusively manmade as it very rarely appears in nature, only if the conditions are right. It was produced for use as an oxidation catalyst in acetone. This was because isopropyl alcohol and acetone were used in abundance in the production of cordite – a smokeless propellant – during World War II.  

Years later, scientists found that isopropyl alcohol is incredibly effective as an anesthetizing and sanitizing agent when mixed with water.  

Today, it is widely available and relatively inexpensive. Isopropyl alcohol does a few important jobs at once, including:  

  • Dissolving adhesives, oils, residues, fingerprints, soldering flux, and other contaminants 
  • Evaporates quickly, especially in spaces above 30° Celsius 
  • Leaves no traces or oils, unlike many ethanol compounds  
  • Disinfects bacteria and viruses at concentrations of 70%  
  • Is relatively non-toxic, considering you are working in a decently ventilated area  
  • Mixes with water and then evaporates with it completely, making it the perfect compound for removing and preventing corrosion damage from liquid spills on electronic devices and circuitry  

70% or 90% Concentration – Which one’s effective?  

Majorly, isopropyl alcohol comes in concentrations between 60% and 90%. But there is a lot of confusion regarding which one’s the most effective. Most people think that the higher the concentration, the higher will be the effectiveness and lower the concentration, the lower will be the effectiveness. However, it is not what we actually think. There is science-backed data that shows something else.  

70% is considered the most effective concentration – why?  

Isopropyl alcohol, in solutions between 60% and 90% with 10%-40% water, is highly disinfectant and antimicrobial against viruses, fungi, and bacteria. As the concentration level decreases, say drops below 50%, the disinfectant properties drop sharply.  

Considerably, higher concentrations of isopropyl alcohol don’t entertain more desirable fungicidal, virucidal, and bacterial properties. With isopropyl alcohol, the presence of water is a vital factor in inhibiting or destroying the growth of pathogenic microorganisms.  

According to experts, water acts as a catalyst that helps in denaturing the vegetative cell membranes of protein. 70% isopropyl alcohol solutions are more effective in penetrating the wall completely that permeates the entire vegetative cell. As a result, it coagulates all proteins and causes the death of the microorganisms.  

The water content in the isopropyl alcohol solution helps in slowing down evaporation, thereby increasing surface contact time and boosting effectiveness.  

Isopropyl alcohol with 90% concentration or above coagulates protein instantly. However, in doing so, it creates a protective layer that helps other proteins from undergoing further coagulation.  

90% or above isopropyl alcohol concentration does kill viruses and bacteria. However, it takes a longer time for disinfection. The longer it takes, the more it allows the spores to lie in a dormant state without being harmed or killed.    

During an analysis, it was found that isopropyl alcohol with 50% concentration killed Staphylococcus Aureus in less than 10 seconds. On the other hand, 90% concentration of isopropyl alcohol proved ineffective even with two hours of contact time.  

This shows that the higher concentration of isopropyl alcohol may not prove to be an effective solution for disinfecting. However, there are disinfectants that kill spores. But they are classified as chemical sterilants.   

Why doesn’t isopropyl alcohol kill spores?  

You might be thinking why higher concentrations of isopropyl alcohol are less effective against antimicrobial and bacterial outcomes.  

Well, this is because when external conditions are unfavorable, some bacteria transform into spores. This reduces their metabolic activity, increases ‘cidal’ resistance, and improves immunity against alcohol-based solutions and disinfectants.  

Spores remain in a dormant state until and unless the conditions become favorable again. And once everything’s fine, they will convert back to the vegetative state and start growing actively.  

So, it is important to concentrate on the concentration levels of isopropyl alcohol.  

What is isopropyl alcohol made of?  

Isopropyl alcohol is made of different compounds since it is a solvent. There are different methods used in the production of isopropyl alcohol and that too, with different compound combinations. The following are the most popular methods for producing isopropyl alcohol:  

  1. Direct Hydration of Propylene: This is a newly invented process where the mixture of propylene, water, and an acidic catalyst like phosphoric acid is exposed to high pressure. This produces a blend of isopropyl alcohol and water, which is then separated by distillation.  
  1. Catalytic Hydrogenation of Acetone: This is a process where hydrogen gas is combined with acetone. To trigger hydrogenation, a little bit of metal is added to the mixture, which acts as a catalyst. Hydrogenation takes place and turns the mixture into isopropyl alcohol.  
  1. Indirect Hydration of Propylene: This is the foremost method used for the production of isopropyl alcohol, which dates back to the 1950s. In this process, propylene and sulfuric acid are combined together to form monoisopropyl. Then water is added to stimulate the breakdown of the mixture, which turns it into isopropyl alcohol.    

Uses of Isopropyl Alcohol  

Isopropyl alcohol is a versatile item that has a multitude of use cases. From acting as an antiseptic to being an astringent and helping with cleaning blinds, the following section discusses the many use cases of isopropyl alcohol.  

#1 Medical Practices  

Isopropyl alcohol is a significant part of many people’s first aid kits. It can be used for numerous medical purposes, such as:  

  • Antiseptic: Isopropyl alcohol is a natural bactericidal treatment. That is, it helps in killing bacteria and inhibiting its growth. When used in the right concentration (not less than 50%), isopropyl alcohol proves effective against viruses, fungus, and bacteria.  
  • Treating Nausea: Smelling isopropyl alcohol for postoperative nausea is a great way to quickly relieve from the symptoms.  
  • Surface Disinfectant: Isopropyl alcohol is popularly used for disinfecting items like thermometers, scissors, electronics like a computer mouse, keyboard, phone screens, and other surfaces.  

#2 Home Remedies  

Since isopropyl alcohol is available in different formulation strengths, a 70% concentration level proves to be friendly for your skin.  

  • Deodorant: If you are out of deodorant or perfume, you simply spray some rubbing alcohol on your underarms. It will not only inhibit the odor but also kills the odor creating bacteria.   
  • Astringent: Isopropyl alcohol acts as a natural astringent and can help you in closing the pores and making your skin feel refreshed. However, the use of the right concentration is advised as higher concentration can quickly dry up your skin.  

Other notable home remedies of isopropyl alcohol include –  

  • Evaporating water from the ear  
  • Can be converted into shapeable ice packs for icing  
  • Removing ticks  
  • Liniment for muscle aches  

Final Words  

This is everything you need to know about isopropyl alcohol. We have covered the major aspects of the compound. You are advised to use the right concentration as per your requirements. And please avoid consuming isopropyl alcohol as it can be deadly.