Cleaning a laptop screen (and paintwork for stick-on hooks) in the UK

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)

Just buy some isopropyl alcohol at Amazon (I see it there) or some other internet vendor. It’s a few dollars a bottle plus shipping but it’s a better deal than the spray can.

Hmm. £7.49 for 250 ml, with courier shipping from That still seems expensive to me. (And I am not sure about the courier shipping. What happens if I am not in when the courier arrives?)

U.S. Amazon are not going to be shipping it to Britain for cheap, and anyway, if I was still in the the US I would just pick it up at the drugstore.

I’ve used straight up 95% ethanol to clean a lot of LCD screens over the years without any trouble. I think you can probably do the same. Really, ethanol and isopropanol are pretty interchangeable for this sort of purpose. I doubt you’ll find an LCD screen which resists isopropanol but will be destroyed by ethanol or methanol.

Yeah, I had feeling the guy on Yahoo was full of shit about ethanol. So do you think the vodka is the best idea?

Why not try plain water? I have cleaned laptop screens that way for years.

Maybe, that would be good enough for the laptop, but the instructions for the hooks explicitly specify (isopropyl) alcohol, and, incidentally, explicitly say not to use regular household cleaners.

It’s not the alcohol that makes those hooks stick, it’s the lack of dirt and grease. And the adhesive used, of course. Unless the place you want to tack the hooks to is super dirty, I don’t think you need to worry too much about the surface. Wipe it with a wet sponge and let it dry and stick to your heart’s content. They probably don’t want you using other household cleansers lest you wipe some paint off and try to blame them.

Last time I used one of those hooks I put it up with no pre-wiping. I went to take it down by pulling on the strip as instructed and the tab broke off. Then I tried to pull the hook off the wall and took off all the paint and the paper on the drywall beneath it.

It stuck just fine without having wiped with alcohol first.

Is straight ammonia more available? It would be great for the hooks, just make sure there are no surfactants in the mix. Shake the bottle, if bubbles form and stay, it’s not pure ammonia.

I don’t know whether it would be safe for the laptop screen.

Can you buy (isopropyl) alcohol swabs at your chemist? The kind used for injections. They’re cheap and handy for cleaning screens and lenses.

vodka is a good ethanol mixture for cleaning in most applications.

methylated spirits if it contained any methanol would possibly be bad for a screen being a stronger solvent. ethanol is a weaker solvent and isopropanol even weaker yet.

I bought a dedicated LCD screen cleaner from ASDA several years ago.
It is made by Philips, works well comes with a microfibre cloth.
I use it to clean my plasma screen TV and my spectacles, among other things.
It cost £5 and is very economical.

I was advised to be very wary of other cleaners (standard glass cleaning products etc.) as they may contain ammonia which can damage some displays.

Isopropanol does seem to have become expensive and difficult to source these days.
Yo can get it here among other places.Added info

I bought these swabs - 100 cleans for under 2 quid - and use them for my laptop, sunglasses, phone case etc. Very handy and portable when you’re out.

I don’t know why it would be less available in UK bricks-and-mortar stores. Perhaps some regulations thing. But a quick look on Google’s shopping results yields plenty of people selling it a lot cheaper than Maplins:,mod=7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8&q=Isopropanol+Alcohol#q=Isopropyl+Alcohol&hl=en&sa=X&prmd=imvnsr&source=univ&tbm=shop&tbo=u&ei=_hPvT_i2D-So0AW56aTUDQ&ved=0CHAQrQQ&bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.r_qf.,cf.osb&fp=616a7f9838c5dd9&biw=1206&bih=739

If mail order is out then yes, it doesn’t seem to be that readily available.