As background. About a year ago I moved back to my native UK, after living for over 20 years in the USA.
Back when I lived in California, I Googled (and IIRC also asked on the Dope) for ways to clean gunk off a laptop screen, and found advice in several places to use a 50% mixture of isopropyl alcohol and water, and a microfiber cloth. This worked well.
Now I am back in Britain, and the job needs doing again, but I have found that isopropyl alcohol, available for a few cents at any drugstore in California (and, I expect, across the USA), is virtually unobtainable in Britain. They do apparently sell it at the Maplin electronics store, but it costs nearly £10 for a 400ml spray can, which seems absurd (and anyway, I do not really want it in a spray can).
Also, I recently bought some plastic hooks that are supposed to stick to the paintwork of a door or wall. I bought them in the UK, where they seem to be commonly on sale, but they are made by the US company 3M. When I looked closely at the instructions, I found that they explicitly say to clean the surface where you intend to stick them with isopropyl alcohol.
The product commonly sold in Britain that fills the niché occupied in the USA by isopropyl rubbing alcohol (i.e., for cleaning skin before injections, etc.) is surgical spirit, and I actually bought some of the stuff, thinking it would do. However, when I look at the label, I find the following ingredients list:
Industrial methylated spirit: 95% (methylated spirit is a mixture of ethanol and methanol, and perhaps other, nastier, things)
Methyl Salicylate: 0.5%
Diethyl Phthalate: 2%
Virgin Castor Oil: 2.5%
(Wikipedia, however, says that surgical spirit “is always an ethyl alcohol-isopropyl alcohol mixture”.)
I do not know about the other ingredients, but surely I do not want to putting any oils either on screens or on paintwork I am trying to prepare for adhesive.
I asked a pharmacist about this. He told me he did not stock isopropyl alcohol, and that surgical spirit would leave an oily residue (precisely the sort of thing I want to clean off from the surfaces in question). He suggested nail varnish remover, but that, I believe, is mostly acetone, and is probably much too harsh a solvent.
I also thought about using methylated spirit, which I think you can still buy cheaply in hardware shops in Britain. I do not know if that would have the added castor oil (maybe it would, to make you throw up if you drank it), but, at least as I recall it, the stuff sold in the UK as methylated spirit is dyed a purple colour (unlike surgical spirit, which is colourless), and has a number of other nasty ingredients added to the basic ethanol-methanol mix. Also, in researching the possibility of using methylated spirit, I found a page on Yahoo Answers that advises very strongly against it, saying that methylated spirit, and, indeed, anything containing ethyl alcohol, will destroy an LCD screen. Is this really true? I did not think ethyl alcohol was as harsh as that (although I can believe other things in methylated spirit might be). If so, of course, it also follows that I should not use the surgical spirit on the laptop screen, regardless of the oil issue.
The fact is, I think (although I may be misremembering) that about a year ago I did use surgical spirit (diluted 50% with water) to clean the laptop screen. At that point, I had not realized that it contained oil. In any case, the screen has not been damaged (which implies that the guy on Yahoo is full of shit about using ethanol) and (if I am remembering right) it got the gunk off fine, although it probably did leave a bit of oily residue.
So, what do I do? Do I need to bite the bullet and pay £9.49 for the isopropyl alcohol, or will the surgical spirit do the job really? After all, the oil content is only 2.5%. Or is there any way I can get isopropyl alcohol in Britain for a reasonable price?
Another possibility that occurs to me is to use vodka. I have some already, and using a small amount of it will still be cheaper than shelling out for the isopropyl alcohol at exorbitant cost. Is there anything else in vodka, apart from the ethanol and water, that I should be wary of? On the other hand, if the Yahoo Answers people are right, I should not be using ethanol at all on the laptop screen. (But then again, Yahoo Answers does not have a very good reputation for accuracy. I trust The Dope much more.)
(Sorry this got so long. :o)