Isopropyl alcohol (C 3H 8O) is a flammable, colorless liquid with a slightly pleasant odor. It is used in manufacturing acetone, glycerol and isopropyl acetate. A solvent for many oils, alkaloids, gums and resins, it also serves as a deicing agent for liquid fuels.

The chemical compound is used in extraction processes, as a dehydrating agent, a preservative, in lotions and as a laboratory reagent. Common names for it include IPA, rubbing alcohol, dimethyl carbinol, isopropanol, 2-propanol and sec-propyl alcohol.

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Common Routes, Effects and First Aid

  • Inhalation: Leave the contaminated area immediately and take deep breaths of fresh air. If symptoms such as wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, or burning in the mouth, throat or chest develop, call a doctor.
  • Contact with Skin: Flood the skin with water. Remove and isolate contaminated clothing. Gently and thoroughly wash all affected skin areas with soap and water. Call a doctor if symptoms such as redness or irritation develop.
  • Contact with Eyes: Check the victim for contact lenses; remove if present. Flush eyes with water or normal saline solution for 20-30 minutes and call a hospital or the poison control center (1-800-848-6946). Do not put any ointments, oils or medication in the victim’s eyes without instructions from a doctor. Transport the victim after flushing eyes to a hospital even if no symptoms such as redness or irritation develop.
  • Ingestion: Do not induce vomiting; volatile chemicals have a high risk of being aspirated into the lungs during vomiting. If the victim is conscious and not convulsing, give 1-2 glasses of water to dilute the chemical. Call a hospital or the poison control center. If the victim is convulsing or unconscious, do not give anything by mouth, ensure that the victim’s airway is open and lay the victim on his or her side with the head lower than the body. Refer to a material safety data sheet (MSDS).

Proper Handling and Storage Procedures

Before working with isopropyl alcohol, individuals should be trained in its proper handling and storage and know how to use proper personal protective equipment. Store the compound in a tightly closed container in a cool, dry, well-ventilated area away from incompatible substances. Keep away from heat, sparks, flames and other sources of ignition, as well as strong oxidizers, acetaldehyde, chlorine, ethylene oxide, acids and isocyanates. A flammable safety cabinet is the best storage option.

Isopropyl alcohol is highly flammable and can easily ignite. Vapors may form explosive mixtures with air, traveling to a source of ignition and flash back. Use of water spray to fight fires may be inefficient.

Personal Protective Equipment

  • Clothing: Avoid skin contact with isopropyl alcohol. Wear chemical-resistant clothing and protective gloves compatible with isopropyl alcohol. Nitrile gloves are best suited for prolonged contact, but Silvershield/4H gloves are also acceptable. Check with the glove manufacturer for recommended use and duration guidelines.
  • Eye Protection: Employees should use indirect vented splash goggles when there is any possibility of isopropyl alcohol exposure. A gravity-feed eyewash or plumbed eyewash should be located within 10 seconds of the hazard location.
  • Respiratory Protection: Engineering controls should be implemented to reduce environmental concentrations to the OSHA time weighted average (400 ppm). Use respirators when engineering and work practice controls are not feasible or are being installed. Respiratory protection should be NIOSH approved for isopropyl alcohol and used in accordance with the OSHA Respiratory Protection Standard, 29 CFR (Code of Federal Regulations) 1910.134. The appropriate cartridge for isopropyl alcohol protection is organic vapor. Any exposure over the allowed exposure for the cartridge style used or of unknown concentrations, such as uncontrolled releases, the user must don a supplied air respirator, such as an airline respirator, an ambient air pump system or a pressure-demand SCBA. Limit respirator use to those who have been medically cleared, adequately trained and fitted for the respirator face piece.

Refer to the manufacturer’s MSDS for more information about isopropyl alcohol hazards.