First, let’s be clear that I’m talking about isopropyl alcohol which, when diluted to 70%, is known as rubbing alcohol.
When I was a small child, one of the things that I can recall finding the most confusing was alcohol. Alcohol was something that the adults drank and it was kept in a special cabinet in the kitchen. But alcohol was also something that we kept in our medicine chest, just in a different bottle.
At the time, I didn’t understand that they were two very different kinds of alcohol. Ethyl alcohol is what people consume whereas isopropyl alcohol is the kind that is used as an antiseptic and to sanitize. As confusing as it was, I remember knowing that the alcohol in the medicine chest was definitely not to be consumed. Instead, this alcohol was a slightly painful antiseptic that my mother would often have to use to clean my scrapes and cuts. (I was a bit of a wild child.) I remember I would also see alcohol being used in our family doctor’s office to disinfect our skin before getting a shot, and thinking it was pretty powerful stuff.
But why is alcohol so powerful and how is it useful to groomers?
First, let’s be clear that I’m talking about isopropyl alcohol which, when diluted to 70%, is known as rubbing alcohol. While I do enjoy a good cocktail now and then, drinking and dog grooming generally aren’t a good combination. Even though ethyl alcohol can also be used in sanitizers such as liquid hand sanitizer, isopropyl alcohol is more commonly used in alcohol-based sanitizers. It is a colorless, flammable chemical compound with a very strong and distinct odor. Isopropyl alcohol is mixed with water in varying percentages from 60-80% to create a powerful and effective antiseptic.
Because of its effectiveness, alcohol is commonly used in aftershaves, lotions and cosmetics, and it is also used as an inexpensive solvent for cosmetics such as nail polish, hairspray build-up and gums. In fact, isopropyl alcohol is the most common and widely-used disinfectant within hospitals, pharmaceutics, clean rooms, and in medical and electronic manufacturing, making it an excellent and necessary product that all groomers should have on hand.
Pet groomers encounter all kinds of germs on a daily basis. Dirty pets with skin issues seem to be a daily occurrence, and those pets can spread bacteria and viruses to our working environments. Isopropyl alcohol can kill harmful viruses and bacteria within 10 seconds of contact, making it a fast and effective disinfectant. Some of the common but dangerous bacteria that alcohol is effective against are staph, E.coli and many common fungi such as yeast. Keeping a spray bottle of 60-80% isopropyl alcohol within reach is a great way to disinfect table surfaces, tools and tubs.
It’s important to note that higher percentages of isopropyl alcohol do not make it more effective; in fact, it’s actually less effective. Alcohol evaporates more rapidly than water, so concentrates of alcohol higher than 80% will evaporate before the alcohol has had enough time to effectively kill viruses and bacteria. By adding water at a dilution of 60-80% (with 70% being preferred), the water slows the evaporation rate, allowing the alcohol to effectively disinfect the surfaces being sanitized.
Rubbing alcohol is also an excellent cleanser for your shears. Alcohol is effective in sanitizing your metal shears without the risk of damaging your titanium coating. The alcohol will disinfect your shears while cleaning them of any dirt and smudges. Wipe with a microfiber cloth after the alcohol dries and your shears will be clean and shiny and ready for the next pet. After each pet, I spray all the combs, brushes and scissors I used with 70% alcohol from a spray bottle and allow it to air dry. Wiping the alcohol away before it evaporates renders it ineffective in the ability to kill bacteria and viruses.
Not only is alcohol a great product for sanitizing your tools and grooming areas, but it’s also a great way to quickly sanitize your hands. When full washing is not necessary or an option, spraying alcohol on your hands will safely sanitize the surface of your skin. Just as I sanitize my tools between dogs, I also sanitize my hands. You can also mix 70% isopropyl alcohol with aloe gel to make homemade hand sanitizer. And by adding a few drops of your favorite scented oil to the hand sanitizer, your hands will be sanitized and smell fresh.
While alcohol is an excellent option for cleaning and sanitizing surfaces and unbroken skin, it’s not the best option for disinfecting open cuts or scrapes. Alcohol causes a burning sensation to open wounds and can actually make a minor injury feel much worse. If you nick a pet’s skin with your scissor or clipper, definitely do not use alcohol to clean the area. There are excellent products for soothing minor skin irritation and cleansing small breaks in the skin that do not cause the area to sting or burn.
We all need to keep a clean and safe grooming environment, and using alcohol is a safe, effective and inexpensive way to achieve that goal. A little spray will go a long way! ✂️