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A lot of hikers carry denatured alcohol for cooking. Is there any risk to using it as an antiseptic for cuts and lacerations?

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One thing you could do is use Everclear (or other very high proof ethanol) for your stove. It cost more then denatured alcohol but you can use that as a first aid antiseptic not to mention you can drink it if you are having a really bad day :) – user3119 Apr 7 '14 at 18:07
up vote 19 down vote accepted

No, it is not safe to use denatured alcohol for two good reasons:

  1. Denatured alcohol refers to a class of ethanol produced for industrial uses that has been "denatured" which essentially means "made undrinkable" by mixing other compounds that are toxic or unpleasant to humans. The thing is, you, as the consumer, have no idea what exactly was mixed in. Different denaturing agents have different skin toxicities, none of them are pleasant, and some of them are known mutagens. Many countries also require denatured alcohol to dyed to help prevent accidental consumption.

  2. Any modern wound management training reccomends against using alcohol of any kind as an antiseptic. Although it does kill bacteria, pouring alcohol in a wound also kills perfectly healthy flesh which disrupts the healing process, can result in longer heal-times, and result in higher susceptibility to infection down the road.

Best treatment for a wound: wash thoroughly with soap and drinking water then bandage appropriately (more thorough details here).

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+1 - Denatured alcohol is only good for fuel or for cleaning mechanical parts, not flesh. I recommend keeping iodine solution (Betadine) in your first aid kit for disinfecting wounds in addition to debriding the wound properly. – manoftheson Jan 14 '13 at 18:45
@manoftheson Even betadine is pretty harsh and can kill as much good tissue as bad. But great to use to clean the area surrounding a wound (not in it). – Lost Jan 14 '13 at 20:02
Yes I should have been clearer in what I said. Small cuts it probably wouldn't hurt, but you don't want to put iodine in a deep laceration. – manoftheson Jan 14 '13 at 20:34
I can't say I agree on Betadine being bad. For more than one of my deeper cuts, the hospital did a five minute soak (ow!!) before stitching. They healed beautifully with minimal scarring and no infection, despite being cut to the bone. – Russell Steen Jan 15 '13 at 18:15
I'm wondering if we have differing ideas of Betadine. Pure iodine is far too strong to use, but a 10% povidone-iodine solution (1% actual iodine) is very often used to disinfect and is not nearly as necrotic as alcohol. But my training still taught to only use clean, sterile water to debride deep wounds and use the disinfecting substance on the skin around the wound. Although abrasions are messy and don't have clear edges to the actual breaks in the skin, so it's good to treat the whole area with the iodine to help kill any possible infection after it's already been cleaned properly. – manoftheson Jan 15 '13 at 20:14

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