Why Does My Car Smell Like Rubbing Alcohol?

January 26, 2024

Rubbing alcohol is an effective cleaner and degreaser, and can easily clear contaminants like oil, grease, and bug splatter. It evaporates quickly, and does not leave a moist residue like some other cleaning products. As a result, many car enthusiasts use rubbing alcohol to clean surfaces before applying new tints, vehicle wraps, or coloring. It also helps to remove contaminants from windows and headlights before re-waxing.

It is also commonly used as a solvent in DIY cleaners and hand sanitizers, and the internet abounds with uses for rubbing alcohol including disinfecting sponges and cloths, removing fabric stains, and even tie dyeing clothing. Rubbing alcohol is actually isopropyl alcohol, or isopropanol, and is sold at concentrations ranging from 70% to 99% isopropyl. It is sometimes called surgical spirit, but that name is actually more associated with a 1970’s sitcom than the actual product. Surgical spirit is actually methylated spirits, a mix of ethyl alcohol and bitter poisons.

While some people may be tempted to spray their car with a high-concentration rubbing alcohol solution, that is very dangerous and should not be done. High-concentration rubbing alcohol can damage or blemish paint, and it may strip wax, leaving the surface prone to fading and peeling. Moreover, rubbing alcohol may also be absorbed into the radiator or coolant system. For this reason, it is very important to check the engine, radiator, and hoses for any signs of leakage. If a leak is discovered, it is best to get it fixed as soon as possible to avoid more expensive repair bills and potential safety issues.


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