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Does Rubbing Alcohol Damage Car Paint?

Close-up image of a white car wash cleaning using hand spraying alcohol.

Whether you’re trying to remove a sticky situation from your car’s paint job or you want to disinfect handles, you might wonder if rubbing alcohol is a safe solution. Applying the wrong chemical to car paint can be an expensive issue to fix. As a result, it makes sense to do your research before rubbing anything on your car’s body. A simple mistake could cost hundreds of dollars in repairs. 

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Will rubbing alcohol damage car paint?

The general consensus suggests that full-strength rubbing alcohol could strip car paint. It could damage the clear coat and create patchiness in the paint job. The good news is that diluted rubbing alcohol should be safe to use on car paint. As getjerry.com shares, “Using a ratio of 10%-15% rubbing alcohol to 85%-90% water mixture will not damage car paint, and is highly effective in removing grease, oil, and other stubborn stains from your car’s exterior paint coat.” Whether your mechanic left some evidence of the last repair work on your car’s body or your kids wiped their sticky fingers on your car, heavily diluted rubbing alcohol will come to the rescue.

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Is it safe to put rubbing alcohol on your car?

Cleaning a white car with alcohol spray.

If you know that rubbing alcohol won’t necessarily damage your car, you still might worry about the safety of using it on your vehicle. Rest assured that diluted rubbing alcohol is safe for preparing your car for glass or paint coats. When watered down, rubbing alcohol safely and effectively removes dirt and debris. Once the rubbing alcohol dries, you can apply your next layer of paint or clear coat. 

While diluted rubbing alcohol is safe for use on your car, undiluted rubbing alcohol spells trouble for vehicles. This could create permanent issues in the paint. As with any DIY undertaking, it’s best to consult a professional if you have any doubts. It’s easier (and less costly) to speak with a professional before doing damage. We always prefer a simple phone call to the mechanic than arranging damage control. 

Will rubbing alcohol peel paint?

Depending on the situation, rubbing alcohol probably won’t peel paint. In fact, a decent amount of detailers use rubbing alcohol on the finish in between steps. Sometimes, they’ll even use rubbing alcohol without diluting it between steps. As long as you use masking tape, the clear coat will not peel.

What is rubbing alcohol?

Amazon Brand - Solimo 99% Isopropyl Alcohol For Technical Use,16 Fl Oz

According to rubbing-alcohol.com, “Rubbing alcohol is either isopropyl alcohol or ethanol that is not designed for human consumption. Rubbing alcohol contains between 60% and 99% alcohol and it is typically used for wound disinfection as well as surface cleaning.” 

When you think of alcohol, you might get flashbacks to some horrible hangovers from college. But alcohol is so much more than an inebriating influence that makes college students make dumb decisions. It’s a potent disinfectant for wounds and a reliable cleaning agent. Most people have some rubbing alcohol in their medicine cabinets because it’s so versatile and useful.

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While it has the word “alcohol” in it, rubbing alcohol in particular should not be in the punch at even the dodgiest shindig. Manufacturers add different solvents to rubbing alcohol to render it undrinkable. This process of adding toxins to rubbing alcohol is called “denaturing.” The reason why companies denature alcohol is simple. For some folks struggling with alcohol addiction or alcohol abuse, drinking rubbing alcohol might be a desperate measure to get alcohol into their systems. When rubbing alcohol is denatured, it deters people from trying to drink it. 

For companies, this eliminates liability around injury if someone drinks the rubbing alcohol. Denaturing also makes rubbing alcohol a different product from drinking alcohol. This is important when it comes to taxing the sale of alcohol. In the United States, legislation requires companies producing rubbing alcohol to denature it so the alcohol tax revenue isn’t affected. 

If rubbing alcohol wasn’t denatured, you’d have to show an ID to purchase it and companies could hurt from lawsuits based on drinking it with poor outcomes. If you do swallow rubbing alcohol on purpose or accidentally, you should call poison control and head to the emergency room. 

The active ingredient in rubbing alcohol is, well, alcohol. If you use it to cleanse a wound, it might sting or burn. Still, the benefit of lowering the risk of infection outweighs the temporary sting. For severe injuries or deep wounds, leaving cleansing to the professionals may be better. If you try using rubbing alcohol to clean a wound and have adverse effects, it’s important to seek proper medical advice.

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Where does the name “rubbing alcohol” come from?

An arranged isopropyl alcohol in the store.

“Rubbing alcohol” coined its name back in the roaring 1920s because it was marketed as a massage aid. When people were giving massages with rubbing alcohol, I sure hope they didn’t have an unknown cut on their shoulders. They’d discover it really quickly when rubbing alcohol hit it! 

Over time, rubbing alcohol kept this name in the U.S. In other areas, such as the United Kingdom, “rubbing alcohol” is called “surgical spirit.” It’s always been called “surgical spirit” in the United Kingdom. This sounds like a more appropriate use and a whimsical name. 

As you may know, the 1920s marked a historical event called “Prohibition” in the United States. During Prohibition, alcohol of all kinds was banned for consumption. People tried to get around the ban in a variety of ways. People wanted to get loaded and weren’t about to let government legislation stop them. Some people made their own alcohol called “bootleg” alcohol or “moonshine.” Others took to participating in speakeasies. Speakeasies were underground bars that sometimes offered a classy, exciting secret drinking party experience. Others turned to rubbing alcohol. 

At the time, there was no legislation calling for manufacturers to make rubbing alcohol impossible to drink. As Prohibition came into full swing, authorities cracked down on the manufacturing of any alcohol. Once they got word that some people were sneaking swigs of rubbing alcohol, they shut it down. Prohibition-era legislation is part of what forces manufacturers in the United States of America to denature rubbing alcohol.

Is isopropyl alcohol the same as rubbing alcohol?

“No – isopropyl alcohol and rubbing alcohol are not the same things. Isopropyl alcohol is pure alcohol and is a colorless liquid with a musty, sharp odor. There are no other ingredients in a bottle of isopropyl alcohol. By contrast, rubbing alcohol contains isopropyl alcohol among other ingredients, such as water.”

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Does rubbing alcohol remove car wax?

Two spray alcohols on the ground with a maroon car on the background.

While rubbing alcohol and IPA are not the same thing, they sometimes have similar uses. Many online sources recommend just an isopropyl alcohol (IPA) wipe-down to remove wax. Depending on how thick the layer of wax is on your vehicle, you may need to apply IPA multiple times to fully strip the vehicle, which wastes product and time.

Does WD-40 ruin car paint?

WD-40 is a solution with many uses. It keeps insects from slamming into your car. What’s more, it also helps wash away grimy gunk, bugs that have set up shop on your vehicle, and animal dung. If you need to clean your car and traditional cleaners aren’t cutting it, WD-40 might get you out of the sticky situation. It won’t hurt your car in any way. At the same time, you should use regular water and soap to clean the WD-40 off when you are done.

Does vinegar harm car paint?

If you don’t have rubbing alcohol, you might wonder if you can use an alternative acidic substance such as vinegar. DIY car care sometimes means using what you have on hand and getting creative. Still, you don’t want to create more issues for yourself while trying to solve a small problem. Before you splash vinegar on your car’s exterior, you should consider a few things. 

Full-strength vinegar of any kind is pretty acidic. It could corrode whatever part of your car it touches. It also could burn the paint of your car, which can be an ugly and tough problem to remedy. While vinegar isn’t the most corrosive chemical in the world, it’s acidic enough to hurt the paint job. As a result, it’s best to keep vinegar off your car and avoid using it in fixing smudges.

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