Medical Equipment Cleaners: Comparing Industrial Strength Alcohols

In hospital settings, medical instruments are typically cleaned in an autoclave, but an autoclave isn’t useful for cleaning electronic medical equipment. In fact, it would ruin the equipment due to water damage.

To clean electronics, hospitals and other organizations often turn to medical equipment cleaners containing industrial grade high-purity alcohol, especially for removing oil accumulations. Isopropyl alcohol (IPA), methyl alcohol (a.k.a. methanol), ethyl alcohol (a.k.a. ethanol), and butyl alcohol (a.k.a. n-Butanol) are four options, but most hospitals choose IPA. Let’s compare the four alcohols to see why.


The vapor pressure of methanol is three times higher than the vapor pressure of IPA. This means methanol has an exceptionally high evaporation rate. The high rate of evaporation produces a high density of methanol vapor in the work area. It also makes using ethanol for hand wipe applications impractical, as the evaporation rate makes it difficult to keep wipes properly saturated during use.


Ethanol is the type of alcohol found in alcoholic beverages. Drinking industrial grade ethanol would taste absolutely terrible, but it’s been done. This is why the federal government requires aqueous medical equipment cleaners that contain industrial strength ethanol to be denatured with solvents you can’t consume, such as IPA and acetone.

However, you can apply for government permission to use undenatured ethanol. But, as Berkshire notes, “[Using] pure ethyl alcohol… would require applying for government permits and complying with usage tracking procedures — more trouble than it’s worth.”


This type of alcohol has a vapor pressure ? as strong as the vapor pressure of IPA, making it a good option in terms of controlling alcohol vapor in the work area and keeping wipes saturated. However, n-butanol’s high hydrocarbon content limits its solubility in water to a roughly 10% n-butanol solution. If you need to use an aqueous n-butanol solution that contains less than about 90% water, you’re out of luck.


Unlike n-butanol, IPA can be mixed with water in any concentration. This is why you commonly find industrial strength IPA in a concentration of roughly 1% water and 99% IPA. In addition to offering excellent flexibility in terms of alcohol/water concentration, IPA has a fast evaporation rate that makes it excellent for cleaning electronics.

However, unlike methanol, the evaporation rate is low enough for IPA to be used in the form of hand wipes, with excellent efficacy, and without producing exceptionally high levels of alcohol vapor in the work area.

Contact Us Today

If you need IPA as one of your medical equipment cleaners, getting it from Ecolink is a great option. We offer stock IPA, as well as customized IPA formulations that address the unique requirements of specific users. We also provide free test samples, so you can see how a solution works before you place an order.

To get started on choosing the right IPA formulation for your lineup of medical equipment cleaners, call us today at 800-563-1305, or send us an email using the contact form on our website. We look forward to providing IPA drop-in solutions you can use for years!



Medical Instrument Solvents: The Pros and Cons of IPA

Isopropyl alcohol (IPA) is found in many solvents used in medical settings. The alcohol is also used in a highly concentrated water/alcohol mixture (e.g., 99% IPA) to perform certain medical cleaning operations. Do aqueous formulations of IPA belong among your organization’s medical instrument solvents?

That’s what we look at in this entry, listing major pros and cons of using IPA solutions in place of traditional medical instrument solvents, according to information from the CDC presented on

Pro: Readily Kills Fungi and Viruses

The CDC notes that IPA is “useful as a surface disinfectant,… [killing] most bacteria, fungi and viruses”. Ultimately, this means IPA can be an effective solution for cleaning instruments that don’t come into contact with patients (e.g., tweezers used to grasp and dispose of biohazard material in a controlled lab setting) but should not be used to clean instruments found in the medical treatment environment.

Con: Doesn’t Kill Bacterial Spores

Medical instrument solvents containing high percentages of IPA excel at killing bacteria, fungi, and viruses, but they don’t eradicate bacterial spores.

According to the CDC, “The FDA has not approved any products using alcohol as the main active ingredient as a high-level disinfectant for health care settings. While alcohols kill most bacteria, fungi and viruses, they are incapable of killing bacterial spores. Use of alcohol-cleaned surgical instruments contaminated with such spores [can spread] deadly infections.”

Pro: Highly Economical Solution

Because IPA is miscible in water at all concentrations, it provides economies of scale that allow hospitals and health clinics to achieve cost savings by using IPA in precise concentrations. In comparison, butyl alcohol (a.k.a. n-butanol) has a maximum concentration of roughly 10% when combined with water. Along with its low price, IPA’s miscibility with water makes it one of the most cost effective industrial cleaners to use on a regular basis.

Con: Can Harm Certain Materials

IPA is a skin irritant and a powerful solution for banishing oil residues, but it generally isn’t considered a “harsh” cleaning solution. Even so, IPA can damage certain types of materials.

According to the CDC, “The use of alcohol for disinfection causes harm to some equipment. The solvent dissolves shellac mountings and causes rubber and plastics to harden and swell, especially with repeated use… In some uses, it softens and deteriorates glue.”

Whether to include IPA among your medical instrument solvents depends partly on the composition of the instruments you would use it to clean.

Need Medical Instrument Solvents?

If so, whether to include high-purity IPA in your lineup of medical instrument cleaners depends on what types of instruments you would clean with the solution. In many cases, IPA proves to be an excellent cleaner for removing soils from electronic medical equipment and an insufficient cleaner for medical instruments used in patient procedures.

For help determining whether IPA formulations and/or non-IPA medical instrument solvents are a good fit for your instrument cleaning needs, call us today at 800-563-1305, or send us an email through our contact form. We look forward to helping you support good health outcomes!