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!