Isopropyl alcohol is a colorless, flammable chemical compound with a strong odor. As an isopropyl group linked to a hydroxyl group, it is the simplest example of a secondary alcohol, where the alcohol carbon atom is attached to two other carbon atoms. It is a structural isomer of 1-propanol and ethyl methyl ether.
It is used in the manufacture of a wide variety of industrial and household chemicals and is a common ingredient in chemicals such as antiseptics, disinfectants, and detergents.
Uses of Isopropyl Alcohol
Isopropyl alcohol dissolves a wide range of non-polar compounds. It also evaporates quickly, leaves nearly zero oil traces, compared to ethanol, and is relatively non-toxic, compared to alternative solvents. Thus, it is used widely as a solvent and as a cleaning fluid, especially for dissolving oils. Together with ethanol, n-butanol, and methanol, it belongs to the group of alcohol solvents.
Isopropyl alcohol is commonly used for cleaning eyeglasses, electrical contacts, audio or video tape heads, DVD and other optical disc lenses, removing thermal paste from heatsinks on CPUs and other IC packages.
Isopropyl alcohol is esterified to give isopropyl acetate, another solvent. It reacts with carbon disulfide and sodium hydroxide to give sodium isopropylxanthate, an herbicide and an ore flotation reagent. Isopropyl alcohol reacts with titanium tetrachloride and Aluminium metal to give titanium and Aluminium isopropoxides, respectively, the former a catalyst, and the latter a chemical reagent. This compound may serve as a chemical reagent in itself, by acting as a dihydrogen donor in transfer hydrogenation.
Rubbing alcohol, hand sanitizer, and disinfecting pads typically contain a 60–70% solution of isopropyl alcohol or ethanol in water. Water is required to open up membrane pores of bacteria, which acts as a gateway for isopropyl alcohol. A 75% v/v solution in water may be used as a hand sanitizer. Isopropyl alcohol is used as a water-drying aid for the prevention of otitis externa, better known as swimmer’s ear.
Isopropyl alcohol is a major ingredient in “gas dryer” fuel additives. In significant quantities, water is a problem in fuel tanks, as it separates from gasoline and can freeze in the supply lines at low temperatures. Alcohol does not remove water from gasoline, but the alcohol solubilizes water in gasoline. Once soluble, water does not pose the same risk as insoluble water, as it no longer accumulates in the supply lines and freezes but is dissolved within the fuel itself. Isopropyl alcohol is often sold in aerosol cans as a windshield or door lock deicer. Isopropyl alcohol is also used to remove brake fluid traces from hydraulic braking systems, so that the brake fluid (usually DOT 3, DOT 4, or mineral oil) does not contaminate the brake pads and cause poor braking. Mixtures of isopropyl alcohol and water are also commonly used in homemade windshield washer fluid.
As a biological specimen preservative, isopropyl alcohol provides a comparatively non-toxic alternative to formaldehyde and other synthetic preservatives. Isopropyl alcohol solutions of 70–99% are used to preserve specimens.
Isopropyl alcohol is often used in DNA extraction. A lab worker adds it to a DNA solution to precipitate the DNA, which then forms a pellet after centrifugation. This is possible because DNA is insoluble in isopropyl alcohol.
Isopropyl alcohol vapor is denser than air and is flammable, with a flammability range of between 2 and 12.7% in air. It should be kept away from heat and open flame. Distillation of isopropyl alcohol over magnesium has been reported to form peroxides, which may explode upon concentration. Isopropyl alcohol causes eye irritation and is a potential allergen. Wearing protective gloves is recommended.