How to Dispose of Expired Rubbing Alcohol?

Rubbing alcohol is a clear, organic liquid that has a variety of uses. It is commonly found in household cleaning agents, industrial reagents, and research laboratory disinfectants and reagents. It has an odor that is akin to ethyl alcohol but is slightly stronger. 

Rubbing alcohol is made of isopropyl alcohol with a concentration that ranges from 50-70%. In the United States, rubbing alcohol also refers to ethyl alcohol but this article will strictly refer to isopropyl alcohol as rubbing alcohol. There are chemical and physical differences between ethyl alcohol and isopropyl alcohol which is why this distinction is necessary. 

Rubbing alcohol is usually dissolved in water before it is sold, and its shelf life is usually around 2-3 years. Rubbing alcohol itself does not degrade, however, it evaporates. No matter how tightly the cap is screwed on, with repeated use, the alcohol will evaporate since it is extremely volatile. 

Over time, this evaporation results in the concentration of the alcohol dropping, the solution becomes more dilute as water does not evaporate at the same rate as alcohol. This means an expired bottle of rubbing alcohol will not have the same potency as the original concentration. Thus for sensitive work in clinics, industry, or research facilities, rubbing alcohol has to be discarded after it’s expired.

In households, the concentration does not have to be extremely accurate for a variety of uses, but if your bottle of rubbing alcohol has been sitting on the shelf for far too long and you have lost your confidence in its usefulness, this article will help you figure out how to dispose of it. 

How to Dispose of Expired Rubbing Alcohol?

Rubbing alcohol is considered hazardous waste and it must be discarded while maintaining strict guidelines set by your local government or municipality. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of the United States has declared rubbing alcohol a hazardous waste, alongside most local governments. 

If you live inside the United States, your local government or municipality will have a hazardous waste facility where you can drop off your expired rubbing alcohol. You should check their website, if you are still unsure about their process, you should call them directly. 

Some municipalities have waste collection days scheduled in different neighborhoods, and sometimes they have programs for hazardous waste as well, so you look into such a program in your area. If you live in an apartment complex, there may be an existent hazardous waste disposal system in your building. You may want to talk to the building manager about the details. 

If you do not have any such hazardous waste collection program, contact your nearest EPA office on what you can do next. 

When it comes to disposing of expired rubbing alcohol, or any other hazardous material, the EPA recommends you dispose of it in the original bottle it came in. This allows the workers to know exactly what is in the bottle, when it expires, what kind of hazards it poses, etc. 

Moreover, make sure the cap is tightly screwed in, then it’s best to tape the mouth of the container with sellotape to minimize the risk of spillage. Rubbing alcohol is very dangerous and ingestion, inhalation, and skin contact can be very toxic for workers. Make sure your bottle is secured before you give it away. 

Now, if by any chance the original bottle is broken or lost, you should put it in a bottle that screws tightly, and does not allow much vapor to escape. Tape the mouth as you would for the original bottle. Then you should label the bottle in big bold letters so there is no confusion. Make sure the workers know that your rubbing alcohol is expired. 

Conclusion: 

Rubbing alcohol is usually dissolved in water before it is sold, and its shelf life is usually around 2-3 years. Rubbing alcohol itself does not degrade, however, it evaporates. No matter how tightly the cap is screwed on, with repeated use, the alcohol will evaporate since it is extremely volatile. 

Over time, this evaporation results in the concentration of the alcohol dropping, the solution becomes more dilute as water does not evaporate at the same rate as alcohol. This means an expired bottle of rubbing alcohol will not have the same potency as the original concentration. Thus for sensitive work in clinics, industry, or research facilities, rubbing alcohol has to be discarded after it’s expired.

In households, the concentration does not have to be extremely accurate for a variety of uses, but if your bottle of rubbing alcohol has been sitting on the shelf for far too long and you have lost your confidence in its usefulness, this article helps you figure out how to dispose of it. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): How to Dispose of Expired Rubbing Alcohol

What do you do with expired rubbing alcohol? 

Expired rubbing alcohol is still considered a hazardous waste, expiration simply means the alcohol has evaporated to an extent and it is not the original concentration anymore. This means the remaining alcohol in the container is still flammable and can be a danger and you should dispose of it as hazardous waste. 

Should I throw out expired rubbing alcohol? 

No, expired alcohol has lower quantities of alcohol than when it was originally bought since the alcohol evaporates leaving the water behind. This does not mean the isopropyl alcohol is inactive, you should not throw it out like normal waste. 

Is isopropyl alcohol a hazardous waste? 

Yes, it is hazardous waste and you should contact your local hazardous waste management to learn how to dispose of it. 

Is isopropyl alcohol flammable after it dries? 

No, if it dries in a well-ventilated space, it will not catch fire. 

Can you flush rubbing alcohol down the toilet? 

No, this is an absolute no-no. Rubbing alcohol even expired has isopropyl alcohol which is a toxic chemical. It is highly flammable and reacts with other compounds to create toxic substances. 

Is expired rubbing alcohol dangerous? 

Yes, even after expiration it contains a good amount of isopropyl alcohol in it. So it should be handled with caution. 

Does expired rubbing alcohol still work? 

Even after the expiration date is passed, rubbing alcohol has isopropyl alcohol in the solution. It’s just that alcohol evaporates which dilutes the solution. The longer the bottles sit on a shelf, the lower the concentration of alcohol becomes. The problem is after it expires it’s impossible to tell what the concentration is, this makes it useless for laboratory or clinical use since precision is mandatory,  but it is still good for household uses since it is not an exact science. 

References: 

  1. How to Dispose of Rubbing Alcohol. (2022). Retrieved 15 February 2022, from https://www.hunker.com/12002225/how-to-dispose-of-rubbing-alcohol
  2. Easy Ways to Dispose of Rubbing Alcohol: 8 Steps (with Pictures). (2022). Retrieved 15 February 2022, from https://www.wikihow.com/Dispose-of-Rubbing-Alcohol
  3. (2022). Retrieved 15 February 2022, from https://communities.acs.org/t5/Ask-The-Community/How-to-safely-dispose-of-isopropyl-alchohol/td-p/86126
  4. How to dispose of Rubbing Alcohol?. (2022). Retrieved 15 February 2022, from https://www.rubbing-alcohol.com/how-to-dispose-of-rubbing-alcohol/
  5. (2022). Retrieved 15 February 2022, from https://suggesthow.com/how-to-dispose-of-rubbing-alcohol/
  6. Ruelas, G. (2022). How to Dispose of Isopropyl Alcohol? – How to Dispose of. Retrieved 15 February 2022, from https://howtodispose.info/dispose-isopropyl-alcohol/
  7. (2022). Retrieved 15 February 2022, from https://archive.epa.gov/region02/sandy/web/pdf/r2dealinghhw.pdf
  8. City of Mountain View – What’s Recyclable. (2022). Retrieved 15 February 2022, from https://www.mountainview.gov/depts/pw/recycling/garbage/recyclable.asp#!rc-cpage=223873

  9. Organics. (2022). Retrieved 15 February 2022, from https://www.sprucegrove.org/services/garbage-organics-recycling/organics/#!rc-cpage=347957
  10. Rubbing alcohol. (2022). Retrieved 15 February 2022, from https://www.ramseycounty.us/content/rubbing-alcohol


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