When used at full strength, rubbing alcohol can cause permanent damage to your car paint. And that’s why you should always dilute isopropyl rubbing alcohol before applying it on your car surfaces.
High concentrations of ethyl found in alcohol can eat through paint and leave behind some damage which may manifest in the form of discoloration or fading of the affected part.
Despite all that, rubbing alcohol remains the number one go-to ingredient for many professional car detailers. It has several uses ranging from inspecting correction results, polishing residues, and removing oil or grease that is stuck on car paint amongst other uses.
If you were wondering whether rubbing alcohol will damage car paint, what you need to know is that provided it is diluted accordingly, it’s safe to use on your car. However, please note that it shouldn’t be used on freshly painted cars.
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Is It Okay to Use Rubbing Alcohol on Car Paint?
For us to gauge the safety of using rubbing alcohol on car paint, allow me to start from the beginning. Car paint maintenance involves a lot of things.
This includes regular cleaning, polishing, waxing, and detailing. Isopropyl rubbing alcohol is very effective at facilitating some of the things I have listed above.
As a matter of fact, despite there being so many solvents and cleaners out there, most experienced detailers prefer to use rubbing alcohol.
It is more than okay to use rubbing alcohol on car paint. And I am not just referring to detailing only. But, car owners can use it to clean and disinfect their cars and remove stubborn stains such as grease.
Isopropyl alcohol can also be used to remove old layers of sealant or wax and to prepare your car for wrapping or application of fresh paint.
Despite having so many uses and applications, before you spray rubbing alcohol on your car paint, there are certain precautions you need to be aware of.
Below I am going to explain further whether rubbing alcohol can damage car paint.
Can Rubbing Alcohol Damage My Car’s Clear Coat?
Every car has a clear coat that is applied on top of the paint. Its role is to protect the paint from scratches, UV rays, and other harmful elements. The clear coat is also responsible for ensuring your car retains its vibrant paint for longer.
The biggest worry for many car owners is that rubbing alcohol can damage this clear coat. Because rubbing alcohol is a solvent and the clear coat is a bit softer than actual paint, this concern is valid.
However, it would take large amounts and concentrations of rubbing alcohol to wear down the clear coat.
Fortunately, the alcohol evaporates faster so the odds of this happening are quite low. Not unless you leave behind a wet rag soaked with undiluted rubbing alcohol on your car paint.
Then you need not worry about rubbing alcohol damaging your clear coat and paint. Also, why would you risk spraying undiluted rubbing alcohol on your car?
Why Should I Dilute Rubbing Alcohol?
On the list of a thousand ways to damage your car paint, spraying undiluted rubbing alcohol is number one. Don’t use rubbing alcohol on your car if you are not going to dilute it. You will be better off using other cleaners or solvents.
As mentioned earlier, full-strength isopropyl alcohol can severely mess up your car paint. Forcing you to part with lots of money in cosmetic repairs.
The safest way for you to use rubbing alcohol is by diluting it in water. You should dilute it between 10% and 15%.
I would mostly advise you to go with the 10% not unless you are dealing with some stubborn grease or thick wax that doesn’t want to come off easily.
Similar to most solvents, you won’t find diluted rubbing alcohol on store shelves. You have to dilute it yourself.
To do so, grab a quart-sized container and fill it quarter-way with 50% rubbing alcohol. Fill the entire container with water. The mixture will be safe to use on your car paint.
Now that we know rubbing alcohol won’t damage car paint if it is diluted, let’s look at some of its common uses that involve its contact with car paint.
Uses of Rubbing Alcohol (that involve its contact with car paint)
At home, rubbing alcohol is mostly used as a cleaning agent and disinfectant. Here it is used in higher concentrations more so when the objective is to kill germs and bacteria.
However, when it’s time to use rubbing alcohol to clean your car or in detailing, it should be adequately diluted so that it doesn’t damage the paint.
Below are some uses of rubbing alcohol that involve its contact with car paint;
1. Removing sealant or wax
Car wax and sealants do a commendable job of preventing paint from fading and discoloring caused by UV rays. These also give your car paint a mirror-like finish.
However, when you want to polish your car or perform paint correction, you will need to remove sealant or wax, and rubbing alcohol can help you do this thoroughly.
2. Removing sticker residue
I have never been a fan of applying stickers on my car mostly because of the rigorous process involved in removing them. Fortunately, rubbing alcohol is strong enough to penetrate through the pores in paper and glue.
3. Headlight restoration
If you have hazy headlights then some rubbing alcohol can clear it up right away removing any dust or polish on the lens.
4. Removing haze from windows and windshields
Similar to headlights, windows often get hazy, and rubbing alcohol does an excellent job of removing those streaks.
Kindly note that the above applications either directly involve car paint or in the case of removing haze from a window, some of the rubbing alcohol may drip onto the paint.
The best course of action is to dilute rubbing alcohol. Not unless you are very keen and won’t spill some on the paint, then you can use it in higher concentrations.
When isopropyl alcohol is diluted with water, the risk of damaging car paint is always minimal. Even if you happen to spray it accidentally on the paint, there would be no effect.
Because it is in small concentrations and secondly, it will evaporate faster. So as long as you know how to handle rubbing alcohol, you can safely use it on any part of your car.
For those who are offering car detailing or cleaning services on a professional level, as great and affordable as rubbing alcohol is, you need to purchase the necessary solvents and cleaning agents designed for these applications.
Rubbing alcohol is just like vinegar. It’s mostly a DIY ingredient and should be used for minor applications.
Key Takeaways on Using Rubbing Alcohol on Car Paint
Overall, rubbing alcohol is an effective product that can be used in various car maintenance activities. Whether you want to clean or polish your car, rubbing alcohol has got you covered.
However, due to its chemical composition, isopropyl rubbing alcohol ought to be handled carefully, lest you risk damaging your car paint.
Here are some key takeaways to keep in mind when using rubbing alcohol on car paint;
• Undiluted rubbing alcohol should never be in contact with your car paint.
• The recommended starting point for using rubbing alcohol should be between 10-15% IPA to water. Don’t exceed 25%.
• If your car has old paint or has fresh paint, avoid rubbing alcohol completely.
• Use a very low percentage of rubbing alcohol on cars that have a softer clear coat.
• It’s safer to use rubbing alcohol on certain sections and not the entire vehicle. It’s also not a product that should be used regularly.
• When applying rubbing alcohol don’t be vigorous neither should you apply pressure. Let the ingredient do its work from the surface.
• As long as you dilute rubbing alcohol correctly, you have nothing to worry about.
• If you can dilute rubbing alcohol with distilled water then you can do a better job.
Can Rubbing Alcohol Dissolve Car Paint?
With ordinary paint, rubbing alcohol will liquefy it. However, car paint is designed differently. It is customized to endure abuse from weather and other common elements found in the environment.
So, the much-rubbing alcohol can do is damage car paint. It won’t dissolve it but will wear out the clear coat and leave your actual paint vulnerable to harmful UV rays and scratches.
It takes away the shield that protects your car paint. When using rubbing alcohol on headlights and windows, ensure that it doesn’t come into contact with the car paint.
The reason is, that when you are cleaning hazy headlights or windshields, you may be tempted to go with a higher percentage or ratio of rubbing alcohol.
The mixture will be a little stronger. And even though it doesn’t have any effect on glass or plastic, when it comes into contact with your paint, the results won’t be that pleasant.
Use a spray bottle and masking tape to help you apply the mixture easily and keep it off your car paint.