Can I Use Rubbing Alcohol to Bring Down a Fever?

Many people worry about fevers, especially in children. When is it too high? Will it cause brain damage? Why won't it come down?!?

Doctors often hear all of these questions and concerns and many more. It seems everyone has their own ideas about when it's important to bring the temperature down and how to best do that.

One of the more common "old wives' tales" about how to get a fever to break is to sponge the skin with rubbing alcohol.

Does it Work? Is it Even Safe?

The answering is a resounding NO. When you rub alcohol on a person's skin, it can absorb into the body and actually lead to alcohol poisoning. The risk is even higher in children.

Using rubbing alcohol to bring down a temperature is dangerous and ineffective. The body temperature goes up typically because the immune system is trying to fight off an infection. As a result, our internal thermostats go up in an attempt to kill off the germs that are trying to make us sick.

However, they don't just raise our skin temperature, the internal body temperature rises, so just cooling off the skin is not going to help bring the temperature down significantly. If it does come down, it will only be temporary and more often the result is that the core body temperature increases because the alcohol can make you feel so cold that you start shivering and your internal temperature goes up.

What Can You Do?

The safest and most effective way to bring down a temperature is to take a fever-reducing medication like ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol). They take some time to work, up to an hour, but most of the time can effectively bring down a fever and make you or your child feel more comfortable.

You can also use lukewarm rags on the forehead and under the arms, although this may only temporarily decrease the temperature. However, as long as they are not extremely cold, they may be used to make the person with the fever more comfortable.

It's important to remember that reducing the temperature is for comfort. Fevers are not dangerous but they can make you feel uncomfortable

When Should You Be Concerned?

Most of the time, fevers should not be a cause for concern. Fevers are almost never dangerous and can be a good thing because they are one of our natural defenses against infections. However, they do make us uncomfortable and using a fever-reducing medication can be helpful to alleviate some of that discomfort.

If you or your child has a fever, you should contact your healthcare provider or seek medical attention for:

  • Fever over 100.4F in an infant younger than 3 months
  • Signs of difficulty breathing (wheezing, retracting, labored breathing or blue or gray coloring to the face and lips)
  • A child that will not smile, play, eat, or drink even after taking fever-reducing medication
  • You also experience neck pain and stiffness
  • You have a new rash and bruises that appear
  • Your child is crying and cannot be consoled for an extended period of time (typically an hour or longer)

A Word From Verywell

If you have any concerns about your fever or a fever in your child, contact your healthcare provider. You may not need to be seen, but your nurse or doctor can help you figure out if you do. 

Rubbing alcohol should never be used to bring down a fever. It is dangerous and ineffective. 

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Article Sources

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Bush LM. Fever in adults. Merck Manual: Consumer Version. Updated February 2019.

  2. Cleveland Clinic. Fever. Updated January 23, 2019.

  3. Cleveland Clinic. Kids' fevers: when to worry, when to relax. Published October 25, 2019.

Additional Reading

  • "Ten Common First Aid Mistakes" SafetyNet. American Red Cross.
  • "Fever". MedlinePlus 2 Oct 14. US National Library of Medicine. National Institutes of Health. US Department of Health and Human Services.
  • "Chills" MedlinePlus 2 Oct 14. US National Library of Medicine. National Institutes of Health. US Department of Health and Human Services.