Many people of a ‘certain age’ will remember the familiar sight and smell of a bottle of purple Surgical Spirit in the bathroom or kitchen cabinet. For decades mothers and grandmothers throughout the UK used it around the home for cleaning and sterilising cuts and grazes and for home hygiene.
Surgical Spirit is sometimes called Rubbing Alcohol and in the UK is a mixture of Methyl Alcohol and Ethyl Alcohol. It contains additives to make it bitter and undrinkable. In its natural state it is a transparent liquid although it may be deliberately coloured to act as a warning and to guard against misuse.
Some common uses of Surgical Spirit are:-
- As a popular home remedy for sterilising and hardening the skin, especially on the feet of hill walkers and runners in order to help prevent blisters
- To ‘toughen up’ soft skin on the fingertips when learning to play stringed instruments such as guitar or cello
- For the treatment and prevention of bed sores in patients who are bed-ridden. Surgical Spirit works by tightening, hardening and disinfecting the outer layer of skin
- For the treatment of minor cuts and abrasions where it acts as a disinfectant leaving the skin bacteria-free
- To clean hard surfaces in clinical environments such as hospitals and clinics
- To disinfect equipment in clinical environments such as hospitals and clinics
- To clean and disinfect skin prior to surgery
- To clean and disinfect skin before giving injections
- The addition of a little Surgical Spirit in a bed-bath acts as a mild and cooling astringent for the skin
- To control germs and bacteria around the home
It is worth remembering that before the availability of proprietary cleaning products, our grandparents had to make use of whatever was available to them to tackle their domestic cleaning chores. As Surgical Spirit is a natural disinfectant, a little on a damp cloth was an excellent method of cleaning, reducing germs and controlling smells around the home.
Although today we have a never-ending choice of cleaning products, this simple method still provides an inexpensive and effective means of controlling germs and bacteria and keeping your home fresh and sweet-smelling. Compost and rubbish bins can be wiped inside and out with a damp cloth onto which Surgical Spirit has been applied. Work surfaces, remote controls, telephone handsets, computer keyboards and other electronic devices, many of which are breeding grounds for germs, can be rendered bacteria-free in a similar fashion. However, care must be taken to NEVER put liquid directly onto any electronic device.
Other, slightly more unusual uses of Surgical Spirit include wig dyeing using a 70% alcohol Surgical Spirit and as a preventative against blisters on the hands of windsurfers.
Surgical Spirit is highly flammable and should be stored away from sources of ignition, sparks and heat. Read the Material Safety Data Sheet before commencing work and wear appropriate protective clothing when handling.