Isopropyl Alcohol vs. Ethyl Alcohol

May 12 • Wellness & Sustainability

Wondering what the difference is between isopropyl and ethyl alcohol? What does "denatured" mean? This brief explanation breaks it all down.

Spoiler alert: Both are used to kill germs! Read below to learn more.

Effectiveness of Ethyl Alcohol

Ethyl alcohol is used in many cosmetics and beauty products. Because it’s effective in killing microorganisms like bacteria, fungi, and viruses, it is a common ingredient in many hand sanitizers, too.

The CDC states that in the healthcare industry, "alcohol" can be used to refer to two different chemical compounds: ethanol, also known as ethyl alcohol, and isopropyl alcohol. They perform essentially the same function in that they are the primary ingredient in many common over-the-counter hand sanitizers. “Rubbing alcohol” is the household name for a water-based solution that is composed of at least 70% ethanol or isopropyl alcohol.

In terms of the topical coronavirus, the CDC does state that alcohol solutions with at least 70% ethanol or isopropyl alcohol should be effective when it comes to disinfection of the virus.

Please visit the CDC’s website for more information about ethyl alcohol’s effectiveness as a virucidal agent.


Rubbing alcohol that contains ethanol is “denatured,” meaning that a bitter or unpleasant substance is added to it to prevent people from drinking it. The inclusion of the additional substance does not alter usefulness for other purposes.

How Alcohol Works

Both types of alcohol, ethyl and isopropyl, require water to work. The water will open bacterial pores, allowing the alcohol to infiltrate the bacterial cells and kill them. Both ethanol and isopropyl alcohols are effective at killing bacteria and can be used for disinfection purposes.

Where are Ethanol and Isopropyl Alcohol Derived?

Ethanol is a natural byproduct of plant fermentation. It is made from plants and grains such as corn, wheat, and barley.

Isopropyl Alcohol
Propene and water are the basic materials necessary to produce isopropyl alcohol. Propene comes from fossil fuels.

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