Can Beer Clean a Wound (And Is It Even Antiseptic?)

If you are injured and the only thing on hand is a beer you may be wondering if it would be helpful. Does beer kill germs? Or would it just make the problem worse?

Beer does not have enough alcohol by volume (ABV) to kill germs and should never be used to clean a wound. In addition to the low alcohol content, the yeast hops, and various microbes within beer could contaminate the wound and potentially lead to infection.

Whether this comes as a surprise or not, keep reading for more details on the usefulness of beer when cleaning wounds. In addition to this, there are a few alcohols that are antiseptic as well as the proper way to clean a wound.

Can beer be used as an antiseptic?

The main purpose of applying alcohol to a wound is to kill any germs.

Since most beers have an ABV of only around 5%, they are not strong enough to act as an antiseptic. Even most strong beers aren’t germicides.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), alcohol is only able to kill germs when above 40% concentration. That said, anything below 50% isn’t very effective. The optimal range is 60-90% ABV.

There are beers in that range, but chances are you won’t have any around when you get hurt. If you did you wouldn’t want to waste it on an injury anyway as they are quite expensive. 

Keep reading to find out why you wouldn’t want those beers or others anywhere near a wound.

Is beer good for cleaning wounds?

So beer can’t disinfect that gash you got from trying to impress a friend. What about just cleaning the wound?

Beer could wash out any dirt, but it would also introduce a bunch of other things you don’t want in a wound. Never use beer to clean out a wound.

What makes beer taste good is the various hops, grains, yeast, and other adjuncts that are used in its creation. None of which you want in an open wound. Sure most of these are filtered out of finished beer, but the flavors they create are still present

Then there are all the microorganisms that live in beer. It should be obvious that you don’t want these in a wound. You will be much better off using water to clean a wound.

Using beer to clean a wound is like taking a half step forward and two steps backward.

Does any drinking alcohol work as an antiseptic?

While beer won’t work when treating an injury, there are a few drinking alcohols that you can use to clean a wound. 

As mentioned above, anything above 40% ABV will kill germs. Alcohols in the 60 to 90% ABV range will be more effective antiseptics than those in the 40 to 60% range.

These are a few types of alcohol that can kill germs:

  • Vodka
  • Rum
  • Absinthe
  • Whisky
  • Gin

Even though it looks cool in the movies and may technically work, I do not recommend using any of these alcohols to disinfect or clean an injury. Except for a few high-quality vodkas, most will still have various contaminants that can be harmful. 

Vodka

Vodka is probably the first alcohol you think of when it comes to high ABV.

Any vodka above 40% ABV will work as an antiseptic. It is also mostly free of impurities that would be detrimental.

Flavored vodka is less pure.

Rum

Rum usually has a lower ABV than vodka, but there are rums that have a high enough ABV.

Rum will more often have more impurities.

Absinthe

Made from a collection of different plants, this spirit can have a high enough ABV, usually at least 45%.

There are a few different possible contaminants in this spirit.

Whisky

Whisky is a tasty spirit, but it contains several impurities that make it unsuitable for medical purposes, no matter the ABV.

Gin

Most gins will be on the low end of the ideal range.

There are only a few gins that can be used this way.

The best way to actually clean and dress a wound

Despite the fact that it’s possible, you should not use alcohol for medical purposes. Even rubbing alcohol can be harmful to your skin and slow your healing. You should always seek professional help if you get injured.

However, if you cannot get to a medical professional or the wound is superficial you can perform basic first aid using drinking alcohol:

  1. Clean the wound – Clean your hands and put on disposable gloves. Then, run the wound under a cold tap. The cold water will wash away dirt and cause the blood vessels to contract. If this does not rinse out all of the dirt and debris, use clean tweezers.
  2. Apply a bandage – Once the wound is clean, apply a clean bandage. This can be any clean cloth or gauze. Use a bandage large enough to cover the entire wound and an area around it. The bandage will help the wound to clot.
  3. Apply pressure & elevate – Now you need to apply gentle pressure to the wound over the bandage. Maintain pressure for as long as the bleeding lasts. If possible, elevate it above the heart. Between these two methods, the blood flow should slow then stop.
  4. Apply more bandages (if necessary) – If the wound bleeds through the first bandage you should not remove it. Instead, add more clean bandages on top. Continue to apply pressure and elevate. Removing a bandage that has been bled through can remove any forming blood clots. Once the bleeding has stopped you can remove the original bandage and apply a new clean one. You can also apply an antibiotic ointment to prevent infection.