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Does Booze Work As An Improvised Disinfectant?

We’ve seen plenty of action movies where someone use a bottle of booze as an improvised disinfectant for a bullet wound or something equally dramatic. But how viable is that really? 

We understand the logic, at least. Ethanol is a type of alcohol. And as such, it has antiseptic properties. Is it really that different from the isopropyl alcohol used in sand sanitizer and rubbing alcohol?

According to Dr Eric Lee (with, certain, but not all, booze could be used to disinfect.

“Vodka of a high enough proof (at least 70%, or 140 proof) would theoretically have the same effect as common household cleaners containing ethanol.

It’s much more expensive and probably most frequently used as a disinfectant on TV. I don’t really suggest taking it seriously as a disinfectant.”

The World Health Organization and the CDC make no mention on their online resources toward using drinking alcohol as a substitute sanitizer. That’s pretty understandable. They’re meant to recommend the best methods, not obtuse improvisations.

Lee instead recommends using diluted bleach for disinfecting objects and surfaces. We don’t recommend using diluted bleach for body wounds, however.

So all in all: Yes, you CAN use booze to treat a wound. There are plenty of better options out there, but in an emergency situation, it would work. Ideally, the alcohol you use should be 70% alcohol (140 proof). The weaker it gets, the less effective it becomes at disinfecting.

The smarter move would still be to have an emergency supply of rubbing alcohol in your home, car, and workplace, though. That’s the real preparedness.

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