Alcohol has been used for years as a medical aid. It has properties that make it a good antiseptic for wounds and it also an effective disinfectant. Today many disinfectant products are made from ethyl alcohol, such as rubbing alcohol patches and hand sanitizers. Why is alcohol an effective antiseptic? Read on to find out.
Why is Alcohol a Good Antiseptic?
Ethyl alcohol (ethanol) is a good antiseptic because it causes coagulation of the protein in cells. Coagulation is the process of clotting or the transformation of a liquid material into a solid material. When alcohol is applied to an area the alcohol soaks into the cells and causes the mostly liquid interior of the cell to coagulate becoming solid. This inhibits the growth and reproduction of the cells. This is one way that alcohol is effective against bacteria, viruses and fungi and it is how alcohol is used to stop the infection of wounds and open cuts. Ethyl alcohol also kills these microorganisms by denaturing their proteins and dissolving their lipids.
Much medical research has determined that 70% alcohol is the most effective as an antiseptic because it allows the alcohol to be absorbed into the cells and organisms that cause infection. When the alcohol is any stronger than this it causes a hard protein shell to develop around the exterior of a cell. This provides the microorganism with protection and makes then more resistance to treatment.
Research has also found that human skin cells are resistant to the coagulating effect of alcohol. This allows medical professionals to use alcohols as topical disinfectants. Alcohol hand sanitizers are also used commonly to cleanse hands of infectious organisms. This is not recommended for open wounds or internal organs because they will suffer some coagulation. However, alcohol is often only used in small amounts or in emergency situations when other antiseptics are not available. Alcohol is also commonly used to disinfect medical instruments and surfaces as it is able to kill microorganisms and dissolve or carry away non-organic materials.