Alcohol as a disinfectant

Why is alcohol a disinfectant? I asked my nurse practitioner mother, and she said that it breaks down the fatty cell wall of micro-organisms.

Is that true? And more to the point for me, why is that true? I know what an alcohol is, and is it really that basic, to pull off so many H’s from the molecules in the cell walls that they fall apart? Aren’t the H’s in the fat molecules held pretty tightly?

So, any guesses or actual knowledge out there?

You don’t have to break down the molecules to break down the cell wall – just the intermolecular bonds, which are usually much weaker. However, at this point I’ve just used up everything I know about this subject.

“non sunt multiplicanda entia praeter necessitatem”
– William of Ockham

My understanding of this is that alcohol is poison, which is why it makes you feel so nice, it’s killing the braincells in your head. Thus, when applied in high concentration to bacteria and whatnot, it kills. Of course,maybe it gets the bacteria drivers really drunk and they die in car accidents…

If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit.

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Does fat dissolve in alcohol, as pluto’s post suggests? That would do the job.

It also absorbs water from the cells, just like those salted slugs in that thread a while back. The burn you feel when you put alcohol on a cut is just the nerve cells shrivelling up and screaming.

Bob the Random Expert
“If we don’t have the answer, we’ll make one up.”

When I was in nursing school we were taught that new research has showed that alcohol doesn’t kill after all. When we truly want to sterilize we use betadine, and let it dry. Alcohols main use is to clean which it does very well by cutting fat, not much different than cleaning the heads on a tape deck,

My biology teacher in HS warned us never to use alcohol to clean a cut; she said that it “burned” the cell walls and caused scarring. Her advice was to use hydrogen-peroxide, but now I hear that that’s bad because it “bleaches” the wound. I don’t get it.


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