Is alcohol antiviral? Things to know

alcohol and virus

Some viruses can be killed by alcohol, but not all. The virus’s efficiency is determined by the concentration and type of alcohol used, as well as the virus’s species.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend washing hands with soap and water, but this method is not always available. When it isn’t, alcohol-based hand sanitizers can help prevent viral illnesses like SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, from spreading.

In addition to hand sanitizers, people can disinfect commonly touched devices in the home, such as phones and computer keyboards, with rubbing alcohol.

This page explains how alcohol kills viruses, how it works, and what concentrations to look for while using it. It also explains how to properly use hand sanitizers and rubbing alcohol.

Is alcohol antiviral?

alcohol and virus

A 2020 study found that both isopropyl and ethyl alcohol can kill viruses. Rubbing alcohol contains isopropyl alcohol, while alcoholic beverages include ethyl alcohol.

The efficacy of these alcohols varies with concentration and viral type. Nonenveloped viruses lack a lipid membrane, whereas enveloped viruses do. Encapsulated viruses are more susceptible to disinfectants.

Isopropyl alcohol kills enveloped viruses but not nonenveloped. Ethyl alcohol kills enveloped and non-enveloped viruses. They both have significant antiviral properties against:

These alcohols have little antiviral activity against viruses like polio and hepatitis A.

How does it work?

Few researches on alcohol’s antiviral effects Scientists believe alcohol damages the virus’s cell membrane by altering its protein structure. An essay from 2021 calls this “denaturing and coagulation.” The virus cannot multiply or infect without a functioning membrane.

Adding water to alcohol denaturizes proteins more effectively. Because alcohol evaporates quickly. It takes longer for viruses to digest alcohol in water.

Alcohol and SARS-CoV-2

The virus that caused the COVID-19 pandemic is SARS-CoV-2. Alcohol is beneficial against SARS-CoV-2 because the outermost membrane includes lipids.

According to a study published in 2020, ethyl or isopropyl alcohol at particular doses rendered the virus inactive after 30 seconds. When soap and water are not available, the CDC recommends using alcohol-based hand sanitizers to prevent SARS-CoV-2 transmission.

How strong does the alcohol need to be?

According to a study published in 2021, the recommended alcohol content in sanitizers is either 80 percent ethyl alcohol or 75 percent isopropyl alcohol. According to the CDC, sanitizers containing at least 60% alcohol are also effective.

The influence of hand sanitizer formulations on SARS-CoV-2 was studied in 2020, and it was discovered that concentrations more than or equal to 30% resulted in full viral inactivation.

What is the best way to use alcohol at home?

To clean small things and high-touch surfaces like phones and door handles, people can use alcohol-based sanitizers or rubbing alcohol around the house. To clean these objects, first do the following:

  • Make sure the room is well ventilated.
  • Using a cotton pad, apply rubbing alcohol.
  • To avoid inhaling, replace the cap.
  • Wipe the surface using the pad.
  • Safely dispose of the cotton pad.

Rubbing alcohol, according to the National Capital Poison Center, poses a number of risks. If a person inhales the fumes or drinks any amount of it, even little amounts are dangerous. To lessen the risk, one should:

  • rub alcohol should be kept out of the reach of children
  • It should only be used in well-ventilated areas
  • Keep a safe distance from open flames
  • don’t ever swallow rubbing alcohol

What is the best way to use alcohol on the skin?

Alcohol can be applied to the skin in two ways to kill viruses. The first is to use a hand sanitizer gel that is alcohol-based. Applying some gel to the palms and massaging it all over the hands, including between the fingers, is how people can use it. Then wait for it to dry.

Doctors no longer advocate using rubbing alcohol to clean wounds since it can cause more tissue damage. Instead, a person can clean the area under running tap water for 5–10 minutes before gently dabbing or wiping the skin with a gauze pad soaked in saline solution or tap water. They can also use an alcohol-free wipe instead.

Are there any risks associated with using alcohol to eliminate viruses?

Alcohol gels other sterilising treatments are excellent in killing a variety of potentially hazardous microorganisms, but they have some drawbacks.

Inferior to washing with soap and water

When feasible, the CDC recommends washing hands with soap and water. Soap and water, unlike hand sanitizers, can eradicate all types of bacteria from the hands. Bacteria, viruses, and other chemicals, such as pesticides, are all included.

Handwashing with soap and water is required in various conditions for optimal hygiene. These are some of them:

  • before, during, and after food preparation
  • after using the toilet
  • after touching garbage
  • when the hands are visibly greasy or dirty
  • before and after caring for a person who is sick
  • before and after visiting someone with a weakened immune system

If soap and water aren’t available, use a sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol content.

Inferior to other surface cleaners

When it comes to cleaning surfaces or equipment, alcohol is less effective than other disinfectants. In hospitals, for example, instead of using alcohol to clean surfaces like floors, workers often use hydrogen peroxide or other disinfectants.

These compounds can destroy a wider range of germs than alcohol, and because they don’t evaporate as rapidly, they stay in contact with the microbes for longer. They do, however, have their own set of advantages and disadvantages, and they have not completely replaced alcohol.

Alcohol’s rapid evaporation might be beneficial when sanitising noninvasive equipment like thermometers. Alcohol, unlike hydrogen peroxide, does not stain or damage clothing or materials.

Antibiotic resistance

In addition to their antiviral characteristics, alcohol-based sanitizers include antibacterial capabilities. Bacteria, on the other hand, can change over time to the point where compounds no longer damage them. Antibiotic resistance is the term for this.

According to some academics, hand sanitizers may lead to antibiotic resistance. However, according to a study published in 2021, alcohol has not been proved to cause bacterial resistance.

To limit the risk of residual bacteria gaining resistance, some experts recommend using a hand sanitizer for a full 20–30 seconds and then letting it to dry.


Both isopropyl and ethyl alcohol have the ability to destroy viruses with lipid-high cell membranes. SARS-CoV-2, as well as HIV, hepatitis B, and herpes viruses, fall within this category. Alcohol inhibits viral function by altering the structure of the viral membrane.

Using soap and water to wash your hands is preferable to using alcohol-based sanitizers. People can use hand gels containing 60–90 percent Trusted Source alcohol if this alternative is not accessible. 80 percent ethanol or 75 percent isopropyl alcohol are the best amounts.

Rubing alcohol can also be used to clean tiny items around the house, but it is important to use caution when handling it.