Rubbing alcohol is a general term used to refer to isopropyl alcohol with a dilution range of 50-90%. In North America, rubbing alcohol can also refer to ethyl alcohol in certain cases. This article will refer to rubbing alcohol as isopropyl alcohol throughout.
Isopropyl alcohol or rubbing alcohol is an organic solvent with a diverse list of applications in industry, health care facilities, and households. Rubbing alcohol is a commonly used disinfectant that is used in hand sanitizer, household cleaning supplies, and in hospitals and clinics to clean wounds and surfaces.
Rubbing alcohol is also used as a solvent in industries, it is also used as a raw material for manufacturing other chemicals.
Rubbing alcohol is considered a hazardous chemical by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and most local governments in the United States. It is considered a hazardous chemical in most other countries as well. This is why proper disposal of this chemical is very important. Irresponsible disposal can lead to a host of issues which this article will go over. Moreover, this article will go over the proper ways you can dispose of rubbing alcohol and explain in detail the safety information for this chemical.
How to Dispose of Rubbing Alcohol?
The best way to dispose of rubbing alcohol is to call your local waste management facility and ask how you can discard it. Rubbing alcohol is available in various concentrations and quantities. Your municipality may consider it hazardous at a particular concentration and volume.
Contact them to find out how you can drop it off at their facility.
Sometimes, counties have pick-up services for hazardous waste, or they hold collection events where you can drop off your alcohol on a certain date and time.
You should look online to find out what your local government’s regulations regarding rubbing alcohol disposal is. If the information is not online you can go to the city hall or call the municipal offices for information.
If you have a very small amount of rubbing alcohol leftover in the house, you may not need to dispose of it. Many, many websites will reassure you that you can flush it down the toilet, that it is safe in lower amounts and it will be too dilute to cause any issue to the septic tank or the wastewater facilities. I, however, will strongly discourage you from doing that.
If you live in an apartment complex for example and you flush your rubbing alcohol down the toilet, you cannot guarantee that other tenants aren’t doing the same. The amount you’re flushing down may be harmless, but if everyone is doing the same thing, then it builds up.
Now, what if it is expired? You may think expired alcohol is perfectly safe to flush down the toilet. But it is not the case. Expired rubbing alcohol simply has a lower concentration of alcohol than the percentage on the bottle. The chemical itself is not inactive or any less harmful. You should treat it as hazardous waste.
If you are environmentally conscious you know that it is always better to recycle than to dispose of something, there are ways to recycle excess rubbing alcohol in the house, and I will give you some ideas in the next section.
Recycle your rubbing alcohol:
Now, if you are stuck with a bottle of rubbing alcohol, what can you do? Maybe the hazardous waste facility in your area is not picking up these chemicals at the moment, and that bottle is just sitting on the shelf. I suggest you repurpose it.
Here is a list of things you can do with rubbing alcohol:
- Make makeup tool cleaner
- Make household surface cleaner
- Make a homemade air freshener
- Make insecticide
- Make old silverware cleaner
If you want to learn the recipes for the products in the list above, visit this link.
When you throw rubbing alcohol in the trash or flush it down the drain you cause a host of issues, it is extremely flammable and it can start a fire in the garbage can or during transportation. This risks the lives of the garbage haulers. Moreover, it can react with other chemicals to create more toxic compounds if you flush it down the toilet. It can also cause an explosion in the septic tank. Be very careful not to dispose of rubbing alcohol improperly.
When it comes to handling rubbing alcohol you should always read the materials safety data sheet (MSDS) or safety data sheet (SDS) of the product to learn the proper ways of handling and storage conditions of the chemical. I will go over the essential information you must know about rubbing alcohol.
The hazards of working with rubbing alcohol:
Rubbing alcohol can dissolve through your skin and it is always recommended you wear gloves when you handle it. If any alcohol spills on your skin, take off your clothes and shower, and use soap to wash it off properly. If any spills on the eye, then run cold water on the eye for at least 20 minutes to wash off the alcohol properly.
It can also be an irritant to the lungs if inhaled and poisonous if ingested.
When you work with rubbing alcohol, make sure your room has proper ventilation.
Rubbing alcohol is very volatile, meaning it evaporates very quickly at room temperatures. If the room does not have proper ventilation you risk inhaling a significant amount of the vapor. This can irritate your lungs. If you inhale rubbing alcohol immediately move outdoors or near a window and get ample fresh air.
If you accidentally ingest rubbing alcohol, you must immediately drink 1-2 glasses to dilute the alcohol in your stomach and call emergency services. It is poisonous and ingestion can cause dizziness, nausea, vomiting, headaches, and unconsciousness. So make sure you keep it in tightly sealed bottles away from pets and children.
Rubbing alcohol should be stored in the original container it is purchased in, if it is decanted to another container it should be properly labeled at all times. The bottle cap should always be tightly screwed in, to minimize evaporation. It should be kept in a dark, cold, area away from any flammable sources. You can learn more about the storage and safety of rubbing alcohol here.
Rubbing alcohol is a very common household chemical that is used in a variety of cleaning agents and disinfectants. With proper handling and disposal it does not pose any risk, so make sure you pay attention to the safety data sheet and dispose of rubbing alcohol as a hazardous waste as per your municipality’s guidelines.
Rubbing alcohol is considered a hazardous chemical by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and most local governments in the United States. It is considered a hazardous chemical in most other countries as well. This is why proper disposal of this chemical is very important. Irresponsible disposal can lead to a host of issues which this article goes over. Moreover, this article goes over the proper ways you can dispose of rubbing alcohol and explains in detail the safety information for this chemical.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): How to Dispose of Rubbing Alcohol
What should I do with expired rubbing alcohol?
Rubbing alcohol is considered hazardous waste. You must contact your local government’s hazardous waste facility to find out how to dispose of it. If you have a small amount, however, and it is not very concentrated, you can use it as a cleaning agent around the house as long as you follow proper guidelines.
Should I throw out expired rubbing alcohol?
Expired rubbing alcohol will have lower amounts of isopropyl alcohol than the percentage recorded on the bottle. It is best to discard it. However, you should not throw it in the garbage. It still contains isopropyl alcohol and must be treated as hazardous waste.
Is Isopropyl alcohol considered hazardous waste?
Yes, it is hazardous waste according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of the United States and it is considered a household hazardous waste by most municipalities. It is extremely flammable and it is an irritant to the skin, it can cause a host of problems if it is ingested or inhaled so you should handle it with caution.
Can you flush rubbing alcohol down the toilet?
No, you shouldn’t flush rubbing alcohol down the toilet. Most rubbing alcohols are 60-70% isopropyl alcohol and flushing these down is bad for the wastewater management system.
Rubbing alcohol that is 5% and has expired may be flushed down the toilet if the quantity is low. But it is always wise to consult your local hazardous waste facility first.
Can you pour rubbing alcohol down the drain?
No, you shouldn’t pour rubbing alcohol down the drain. Most rubbing alcohols are 60-70% isopropyl alcohol and flushing these down is bad for the wastewater management system.
Rubbing alcohol that is 5% and has expired may be poured down the drain with ample water if the quantity is low. But it is always wise to consult your local hazardous waste facility first.
How do you dispose of 70% rubbing alcohol?
In most municipalities, you are to treat it as hazardous waste and hand it over to the hazardous waste facility.
What is the difference between isopropyl alcohol and ethyl alcohol?
Ethanol or ethyl alcohol is a molecularly different chemical than isopropyl alcohol. Whilst both molecules contain one hydroxide ion each, ethyl alcohol has two carbons while isopropyl alcohol has three. Ethyl alcohol is consumable and is the key ingredient in alcoholic drinks. Isopropyl alcohol is not edible. Both are disinfecting agents and can efficiently kill bacteria and some viruses, however, it dries out faster and does not dehydrate the hands as much as ethyl alcohol.
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