Kelly Trom

There are many misconceptions about alcohol. What it does to your body, how much is safe to drink in one night and how much time it takes to sober up are just some of the issues brought up by Friday Night Live coordinator Jennifer Rhoads. But something else students may not realize is how many other ways alcohol can be used besides drinking it.

“The molecule alcohol is really versatile. What it has the ability to do is dissolve into water,” food and science and nutrition professor Lisa Nicholson said.  “It becomes this excellent solvent for certain materials.”


While alcohol might not be the first thing that comes to mind when cleaning around the house, it can be used to get stubborn substances off household surfaces.

In the medical field, alcohol is used as a disinfectant in surgery. Different dilutions of alcohol can be used for many things and are powerful — from 100 percent alcohol actually disrupting the cell membrane to a much lower dilution of alcohol cleaning an area and making it less bacteria-friendly, Nicholson said.

“Lots of things can clean organic matter off of a surface, but for a more waxy substance like crayon, alcohol works better,” she said.

Mixing a low dilution of alcohol together with soap can help get hard-to-handle stains out of your house.

White vinegar, made from the oxidation of ethanol, is also an option.

“It is more affordable than alcohol, legal to purchase and is a great universal cleaner,” Rhoads said.


In addition to cleaning, it also works well for drying things out. Nicholson uses it to dry out test tubes in the laboratory because it evaporates the leftover water.

This quality of alcohol comes into play when used in perfumes. Scents, such as that of a flower, used in fragrances are made out of a volatile oil. The oil is made of small molecules that it floats on the air.

Mixing the scent with an alcohol base evaporates the oil and diffuses the scent out into the world.

“So it’s actually a less expensive way to make perfume if you want the really high quality stuff,” Nicholson said.

Alcohol can be used not only to make your skin smell better, but can also help clear it up. The next time you are getting ready for a date or job interview and an annoying pimple appears out of nowhere, reach for a bottle of rubbing alcohol.

Applying rubbing alcohol directly onto the acne can help dry it out, but be warned because it can increase wrinkle production later on in life, Nicholson said.

One more beauty technique requires warm, flat beer. Beer can be used to restore the shine in your hair. Simply working the beer through your hair and then washing it out with cold water infuses it with vitamin B and the natural sugars in the beer.


Using alcohol in the kitchen is certainly not a new idea, but there is a reason why it can be used to flavor a meal.

The ethanol component that is in alcohol from fermentation in the grain, like beer, or a fruit, like wine, burns off while cooking.

Wine and chicken are often paired together and are mixed in saute pans.

“Once the ethanol burns off, then all those juices from the fruit will concentrate and kind of caramelize onto the chicken,” Nicholson said. “This creates a beautiful fruity depth of sweetness.”

The burning off of ethanol is also used to create elaborate displays of food such as cherries jubilee and Baked Alaska.

Medical Remedies

There are many old wives’ tales about the healing powers of alcohol such as the now outdated method of putting whiskey on a cloth to soothe a child’s toothache.

One method that might have some merit is applying vodka to poison oak blisters, English sophomore Maira Argenbright said.

“My brother got poison oak over the summer from backpacking,” Argenbright said. “He heard from someone that vodka might help, so he soaked his feet in a bowl of vodka.”

The oil from the poison oak plant is what irritates the skin, Nicholson said. Alcohol might have the same kind of evaporating, drying effect on the oil as it does in perfume, she said.

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