27

You see this a lot on films, the hero/heroine is injured and disinfects their wound(s) by pouring whiskey on it.

I'm a bit sceptical. If I'm in an emergency scenario and need to prevent infection. Would pouring drinking alcohol on help?

Just to clarify, I didn't mean a proper alcohol based disinfectant (typically undrinkable) but something that you could drink.

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    @Paparazzi This relates to survival and first aid in the great outdoors. – Lumberjack Dec 23 '16 at 22:53
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    Why are you carrying whiskey and not a first aid kit :) ? – ab2 Dec 24 '16 at 3:19
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    @ab2 It's not that of a strange scenario. I often go snowboarding with other skiers having a flask of liquor but no first aid things with them. – OddDeer Dec 24 '16 at 10:48
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    Whether ethanol alcohol is used to clean a wound or "rubbing alcohol" is used, the idea percentage of alcohol is 70%.per volume. – Ken Graham Dec 27 '16 at 13:57
  • There are people who actually DRINK whiskey? – Paul Paulsen Apr 13 '17 at 16:46
19

This was done on the American Frontier, and during the American Civil War. According to this journal from the American Medical Association printed in 1893, it is a good antiseptic. Apparently, alcohol works by breaking down the protein bonds.

It looks like this question has been asked by many other people, and other than historical sources, there doesn't seem to be much current research on it, probably because we now have better antiseptics and disinfectants.

Correction, as pointed out by @Lumberjach, someone did do a modern study and found that whiskey can be used as an antiseptic.

One last thing, the difference between antiseptics and disinfectants is:

Antiseptics are applied to living skin or tissue to prevent infection, whereas disinfectants are applied to surfaces, equipment or other inanimate objects. Disinfectants are stronger and more toxic than antiseptics because they are applied to surfaces, not living tissue.

Source

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    This guy did some modern day science and came to the same conclusion: straightdope.com/columns/read/2978/… – Lumberjack Dec 23 '16 at 21:59
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    Taken internally in appropriate dosages it also works as an analgesic and'or anesthesia – James Jenkins Dec 24 '16 at 1:21
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    Alcohol of any kind should never be used on an open wound. Alcohol has the ability to kill exposed tissue as well as germs. This may delay healing. However, in a situation where standard first aid equipment is not available, vodka or whiskey (of at least 40% alcohol) may be used to clean dirt from the surrounding area of a wound. Any strong alcohol may also be used to disinfect equipment used to treat an open wound. – Ken Graham Dec 24 '16 at 13:09
  • I wouldn't call @Lumberjack's source a study and it only looks at the effectiveness of alcohol at killing germs. While relevant, this does not address the issue of potential damage to live tissue (see Ken Grahams comment/answer), making it more relevant to alcohol being used as disinfectant not antiseptic. – imsodin Dec 26 '16 at 22:19
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    Delayed healing or death by septicemia, not a tough choice if its all you have. – user5330 Dec 26 '16 at 22:36
17

Is whiskey a good disinfectant in an emergency situation while in the outdoors?

Ideally any strong alcohol, whether whiskey, vodka, tequila or some other strong liquor should not be used to clean wounds. But in an a survival situation, I would not hesitate to use whiskey or some other strong liquor such as vodka on a wound while in the great outdoors.

Treating Wounds

Alcohol of any kind should never be used on an open wound. Alcohol has the ability to kill exposed tissue as well as germs. This may delay healing. However, in a situation where standard first aid equipment is not available, vodka (or whiskey) may be used to clean dirt from the surrounding area of a wound. Vodka may also be used to disinfect equipment used to treat an open wound.

Our modern whiskeys are rather weak in comparison to the whiskeys used to clean wounds in the good old days of the American Civil War or the wild West.

Care for Cuts

Now imagine you’re injured—does the old cowboy “whiskey in the wound” method work? Modern liquor, including bourbon, clocks in at 40 percent alcohol, only half the punch of the Wild West moonshines, but it still kills topical germs, Tilton says. It might also kill healthy cells, however, and it burns like hell, making clean water a better option. Whiskey does work to sterilize instruments and to blunt pain—drinking two ounces of 90-proof George Dickel reduces pain roughly 50 percent for two hours.

What is the best percentage of alcohol for being affective as a disinfectant?

Antiseptic/disinfectant

There are plenty of other uses for alcohol aside from drinking and burning it. For example, high strength ethyl alcohol (the kind produced by fermenting sugar and then concentrating it with a still) is a versatile product that doubles as an antiseptic as well as a disinfectant. This means that it’s effective at cleaning wounds but can also be used to clean hard surfaces. It’s a broad-spectrum antimicrobial and is highly effective at killing bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Antiseptic and disinfectants are very useful and should be considered highly valuable by SHTF preppers.

There is one very important piece of information that one should consider when producing antiseptic: the strength of the alcohol greatly alters its effectiveness and stronger is not always better. Generally, the antimicrobial activity of alcohol is significantly lower at concentrations below 50%. So, when producing antiseptic, make sure that it’s at least 50% alcohol. Also, the optimal strength is in the 60 to 90% range. That’s where the “stronger is not always better” rule comes into play. Interestingly enough, applying alcohol stronger than 90% to a wound actually disrupts the body’s natural healing process.

As a side note, whiskey could be used to purify iffy water against giardia.

Treat Iffy Water

Early settlers in Canada’s Red River area who mixed a little whiskey into their drinking water had fewer incidences of waterborne illness than their counterparts, reports BACKPACKER columnist and wilderness-medicine expert Buck Tilton. Add a shot to your liter of water, then wait 20 minutes. You want dead, not drunk giardia.

protected by Charlie Brumbaugh Oct 26 '18 at 5:45

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