Rubbing alcohol, USP / Surgical spirit, B.P. is a liquid prepared and used primarily for topical application. It is prepared from a special denatured alcohol solution and contains approximately 70 percent by volume of pure, concentrated ethanol (ethyl alcohol) or isopropyl alcohol (isopropanol). Individual manufacturers can use their own "formulation standards" in which the ethanol content usually ranges from 70-99% v/v. In Ireland and the UK, the equivalent skin preparation is surgical spirit, which is always an ethyl alcohol-isopropyl alcohol mixture. It is colorless. The melting point is -89 °C. The boiling point is 82.5 °C.
Rubbing alcohol is a volatile and flammable liquid. It has an extremely bitter taste from its additives and (in the absence of added odorous substances) a characteristic odor. The specific gravity of Formula 23-H is between 0.8691 and 0.8771 at 15.56 °C.
Isopropyl rubbing alcohol USP/B.P. contains 68–99% of isopropanol (isopropyl alcohol) by volume, the remainder consisting of water, with or without color additives, suitable stabilisers, and perfume oils. Isopropyl alcohol is oxidised by the liver into acetone. Symptoms of isopropyl alcohol poisoning include flushing, headache, dizziness, central nervous system depression, nausea, vomiting, anesthesia, and coma.
In the USA, rubbing alcohol, USP and all preparations coming under the classification of Rubbing Alcohols (defined as those containing ethanol) must be manufactured in accordance with the requirements of the US Treasury Department, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, using Formula 23-H (8 parts by volume of acetone, 1.5 parts by volume of methyl isobutyl ketone, and 100 parts by volume of ethyl alcohol). It contains 87.5-91% by volume of absolute ethyl alcohol. The rest consists of water and the denaturants, with or without color additives, and perfume oils. Rubbing alcohol contains in each 100 mL not less than 355 mg of sucrose octaacetate or not less than 1.40 mg of denatonium benzoate. The preparation may be colored with one or more color additives. A suitable stabilizer may also be added.
Product labels for rubbing alcohol include a number of warnings about the chemical, including the flammability hazards and its intended use only as a topical antiseptic and not for internal wounds or consumption. It should be used in a well-ventilated area due to inhalation hazards. Poisoning can occur from ingestion, inhalation, absorption, or consumption of rubbing alcohol.
- See Industrial Alcohol In Washington State, "Rubbing Alcohol is a cooling and soothing liquid for external application that contains approximately 70 percent denatured ethyl alcohol or isopropanol."
- Wilson, Charles; John H. Block, Ole Gisvold, John Marlowe Beale (2004). "8". Wilson and Gisvold's textbook of organic medicinal and pharmaceutical chemistry (11 ed.). Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. p. 219. ISBN 978-0-7817-3481-3.
- Levine, Michael D; Tobias D Barker (August 27, 2008). "Toxicity, Alcohols". Retrieved 2009-08-20.
- Expert Committee:(PA2)Pharmaceutical Analysis 2, USP28–NF23 Page 62, Pharmacopeial Forum:Volume No.27(3)Page 2507 
- DeBellonia RR, Marcus S, Shih R, Kashani J, Rella JG, Ruck B (April 2008). "Curanderismo: consequences of folk medicine". Pediatr Emerg Care 24 (4): 228–9. doi:10.1097/PEC.0b013e31816b7a92. PMID 18418260.
- Trullas JC, Aguilo S, Castro P, Nogue S (October 2004). "Life-threatening isopropyl alcohol intoxication: is hemodialysis really necessary?". Vet Hum Toxicol 46 (5): 282–4. PMID 15487656.