Isopropyl alcohol (also propan-2-ol, 2-propanol or the abbreviation IPA) is a common name for the chemical compound with the molecular formula C3H8O. It is a colorless, flammable chemical compound with a strong odor. It is the simplest example of a secondary alcohol, where the alcohol carbon is attached to two other carbons sometimes shown as (CH3)2CHOH. It is a structural isomer of propanol.
Isopropyl alcohol is readily available. Like acetone, it dissolves a wide range of nonpolar compounds. It is also relatively non-toxic and evaporates quickly. Thus it is used widely as a solvent and as a cleaning fluid, especially for dissolving lipophilic contaminants such as oil. Examples include cleaning electronic devices such as contact pins (like those on ROM cartridges), magnetic tape and disk heads (such as those in audio and video tape recorders and floppy disk drives), the lenses of lasers in optical disc drives (e.g. CD, DVD) and removing thermal paste from IC packages (such as CPUs.) It is used to clean LCD and glass computer monitor screens (at some risk to the anti-reflection coating on some screens), and used to give second-hand or worn records newer-looking sheens. Isopropyl alcohol should not be used to clean vinyl records as it may leach plasticizer from the vinyl making it more rigid. Isopropyl alcohol removes smudges, dirt, and fingerprints from cell phones and PDAs. It is effective at removing residual glue from some sticky labels although some other adhesives used on tapes and paper labels are resistant to it. It can also be used to remove stains from most fabrics, wood, cotton, etc. Isopropyl alcohol is also used to remove brake fluid traces from hydraulic disk brake systems, so that the brake fluid (usually DOT 3, DOT 4 or mineral oil) does not contaminate the brake pads, which would result in poor braking. In addition it can also be used to clean paintballs or other oil based products so that they may be reused, commonly known as "repainting".
As a biological specimen preservative, isopropyl alcohol provides a cost-effective (compared to ethanol) and comparatively non-toxic alternative to formaldehyde and other synthetic preservatives. Isopropyl alcohol solutions of 90-99% are optimal for preserving specimens, although concentrations as low as 70% can be used in emergencies.
Sterilizing pads typically contain a 60–70% solution of isopropyl alcohol in water. Isopropyl alcohol is also commonly used as a cleaner and solvent in industry.
Isopropyl alcohol is a major ingredient in "gas dryer" fuel additives. In significant quantities, water is a problem in fuel tanks, as it separates from the gasoline, and can freeze in the supply lines at cold temperatures. It does not remove water from gasoline; rather, the alcohol solubilizes water in gasoline. Once soluble, water does not pose the same risk as insoluble water as it will no longer accumulate in the supply lines and freeze. Isopropyl alcohol is often sold in aerosol cans as a windscreen de-icer.
Isopropyl alcohol is used as a water-drying aid for the prevention of otitis externa, better known as swimmer’s ear.
Isopropyl alcohol is used in keyboard, LCD and laptop cleaning as a strong but safer alternative to common household cleaning products.