What Is an Alcohol Prep Pad?

What Is an Alcohol Prep Pad?
5 September 2022

What Is an Alcohol Prep Pad?

What Is an Alcohol Prep Pad?

When the skin needs to be pierced for injection, a minor surgical operation, or something more cosmetic like a tattoo, there’s always a risk of infection. Compromising the body’s protective skin barrier could lead to serious complications further down the line, which is why proper hygiene measures must be followed. 

Even if the tools being used are sterile and the person doing the work is completely clean, there could still be germs on the skin's surface. The skin is an excellent protective barrier, and while it’s intact, it protects the body’s vital organs, blood, and other life-sustaining systems from potentially infectious agents that could cause harm. But when the skin is broken, these germs can go into the blood and mucous membranes underneath. 

What can alcohol prep pads be used for?

Alcohol prep pads protect the body from potentially harmful germs when an injection is administered, or the skin will be cut somehow. Prep pads are made from a gauze swab impregnated with an alcohol disinfectant solution. 

The solution contains a high concentration of alcohol, usually around 70%. Alcohol is a very effective sanitiser capable of killing many different types of bacteria, virus strains, and fungi that could be present on the skin. Alcohol has a fast contact time. You might have noticed when you had your last injection that the person administering the jab swiped your skin with an alcohol prep pad and then inserted the needle only moments later.

Alcohol prep pads are individually wrapped in foil and completed sterile until use. The healthcare professional may use the aseptic non-touch technique to hold the gauze swab, or they might just hold on to one corner of the pad and only wipe your skin with the rest of it to prevent any cross-contamination.

Do alcohol prep pads kill germs?

A ‘germ’ is simply a microorganism that can cause or spread disease. As a sanitiser, alcohol kills bacteria, viruses, and fungi, all of which are classed as germs. At 70% concentration, alcohol prep pads have the recommended strength to reduce potentially infectious germs to a safe level. This means that, while there’s never going to be zero germs on the area being cleaned, there’s a low enough count that it’s safe to perform the procedure. 

This is why washing your hands with soap and water is more effective than using an alcohol wipe or hand gel. The act of washing not only kills germs in the same way as alcohol, but it physically dislodges them and rinses them away.

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When to Not Use Alcohol Prep Pads

Alcohol prep pads can be used to clean non-invasive medical devices like pulse oximeters, but any devices that go inside the body need to be sterilised with an autoclave as this eradicates 100% of germs. 

Alcohol prep pads should not be used as wound cleaning wipes as the harsh characteristics of the alcohol can damage cells in the wound tissues and make things worse. 

What are alcohol prep pads used for? Some examples include:

  • Sanitising an ear lobe before piercing.
  • Sanitising phones, tablets, and laptop screens.
  • Sanitising an area of skin before giving a tattoo.
  • Sanitising an area of skin before removing a mole.
  • Sanitising the upper arm before administering a vaccination.
doctor using alcohol prep pad on patients arm

How to Use Alcohol Prep Pad

Before using an alcohol prep pad to clean the skin, ensure your environment is clean and orderly. This means gathering all the necessary supplies and equipment to clean the patient’s skin and perform the task. Ensure your hands are thoroughly washed with soap and water, dried, and that you put on a pair of disposable gloves. 

This is to reduce the risk of transferring any germs from your hands and your equipment to the prep pad and the patient.

The prep pad sachet will be marked to show you where to open it. Usually, you need to tear down one side of the sachet.

Step 1

The prep pad sachet will be marked to show you where to open it. Usually, you need to tear down one side of the sachet.

Pull the swab out by one corner, and do not unfold it. Try not to touch more of the swab than needed.

Step 2

Pull the swab out by one corner, and do not unfold it. Try not to touch more of the swab than needed.

Swipe the swab back and forth over the area several times. Ensure you cover a wide enough area.

Step 3

Swipe the swab back and forth over the area several times. Ensure you cover a wide enough area.

Leave the skin to air dry. Check the packet for the stated contact time. Leave the area to dry for 30 seconds if no time is specified.

Step 4

Leave the skin to air dry. Check the packet for the stated contact time. Leave the area to dry for 30 seconds if no time is specified.

Dispose of the prep pad in your general waste stream. Remember that if the prep pad has come into contact with body fluids, it must be disposed of in your clinical waste stream.

Step 5

Dispose of the prep pad in your general waste stream. Remember that if the prep pad has come into contact with body fluids, it must be disposed of in your clinical waste stream.

Cautions

  • Alcohol prep pads should not be used on broken skin, wounds, or inside the body.
  • Alcohol is highly flammable, so prep pads should not be used around flames, sparks, or heat. Do not use prep pads around electrocautery procedures.
  • Keep alcohol prep pads away from children.
  • Ensure the area swabbed has completely dried before beginning the procedure. Be observant of pooling on the skin and ensure this has dried.

Are there any alternatives to alcohol prep pads?

Some people are allergic to isopropyl alcohol, the active ingredient in most alcohol prep pads. In other instances, alcohol simply might not be usable. Thankfully, there are some alcohol-free wipe alternatives. 

You can use rubbing alcohol (ethanol) on a piece of cotton wool or a gauze swab if possible. Hydrogen peroxide can also be used to sanitise the skin, as can chlorhexidine, which is sometimes used to disinfect minimally invasive devices like catheters. Whatever alternative you use, ensure it has a broad kill spectrum and will reduce germs to a safe level to perform a minor procedure.

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