Natural Baby Life logo (480 x 130)
Is Smelling Rubbing Alcohol During Pregnancy Safe (Plus What To Do If You Crave It!)

Is Smelling Rubbing Alcohol During Pregnancy Safe? (Plus What To Do If You Crave It!)

Disclosure: Some of our articles contain links to recommended products or services in which we may receive a commission if you make a purchase.

During pregnancy, you have to adjust a lot of aspects of your life to keep your baby safe. Some things that may have been safe are now things you have to avoid. Additionally, you’ll probably have weird cravings that range from the type of foods that you don’t typically eat to objects not made for consumption. If you’re experiencing a craving for rubbing alcohol, you might wonder is smelling rubbing alcohol during pregnancy safe?

Craving the smell of alcohol during pregnancy can be linked to desiderosmia. This condition is often linked to an iron deficiency in pregnant women. While smelling rubbing alcohol is typically safe, prolonged exposure to it can potentially be harmful.

Read along as we dissect the reasons why you are craving the smell of rubbing alcohol during pregnancy and what to do about it. 

Pregnant woman belly with husband

Is smelling rubbing alcohol during pregnancy safe?

Everyone knows that a pregnant woman will experience food cravings during pregnancy, but is it normal to crave smells as well?

Craving smells is normal during pregnancy and is considered a form of pica, which is linked to iron deficiency. When you have an urge to smell rubbing alcohol specifically, you can do so, but make sure that you are only doing it occasionally.

Pica is more prevalent in children and is present in approximately 10-30% of children. Pregnant women can also exhibit symptoms of pica but it’s not as common.

Cravings, in general, will affect 68% of pregnant women and the types of cravings vary wildly. Specific cravings can be attributed to hormonal changes and the fact that your body is telling you that you are deficient in a specific mineral or nutrient.

Because hormonal changes can affect mood swings and emotional levels, cravings during pregnancy are usually a way of seeking comfort. Even craving certain smells can be a woman looking for comfort as well, but when you crave non-food items, it’s often your body signaling that it has a deficiency.

What is pica during pregnancy?

Pica is craving or eating things that are not food, and is classified as an eating disorder.

There are not enough studies regarding pica but it is believed to be tied to your body having something out of balance. Another common belief is that it is directly connected to anemia and often occurs during the first trimester of pregnancy.

It is also possible that your body might be craving a nutrient that it’s missing. For this reason, pica is linked to deficiencies in iron or B vitamins which are both important for a healthy pregnancy.

Pica is not harmful but it is important to determine the underlying cause to make sure you’re getting all the nutrients you need. If you think you might be experiencing symptoms of pica, talk to your doctor to get further guidance.

Craving the smell of rubbing alcohol falls loosely under this category because rubbing alcohol is not food and is not made for human consumption. Craving for this particular smell is safe, and smelling rubbing alcohol during pregnancy isn’t harmful in small doses. However, be sure to limit your exposure to rubbing alcohol and other chemicals.

What is desiderosmia during pregnancy?

Craving the smell of rubbing alcohol during pregnancy can also be linked to a lesser-known condition known as desiderosmia.

The main difference between pica and desiderosmia is that pica will give you the urge to eat something but desiderosmia will make you crave specific smells. Like pica, desiderosmia is linked to iron deficiency. Also, there are no formal scientific studies about desiderosmia. It’s usually thought of as a sign of iron deficiency in pregnant women.

These two conditions can happen at the same time and are usually connected. However, you can have pica and not have desiderosmia or vice versa.

The reason for this is that patients with iron deficiency anemia often develop a compulsive craving for non-food objects. According to the American Journal of Hematology, there are studies of anemic patients who stopped having pica or desiderosmia symptoms altogether after being treated for iron deficiency.

Pregnant woman standing in her kitchen

Is smelling rubbing alcohol during pregnancy bad?

Craving the smell of rubbing alcohol can be common and is attributed to iron deficiency, especially in pregnant women. If you’re experiencing this strong craving, you might be wondering if it is harmful to your baby if you smell rubbing alcohol. 

Generally speaking, if you take a sniff of alcohol occasionally, it’s not going to harm your baby. However, prolonged exposure isn’t recommended.

Frequent exposure to solvents including alcohol can be detrimental to pregnant women and their babies. This exposure can lead to miscarriage, slow growth in the womb, premature births, and birth defects. 

What does sniffing alcohol do to you?

If you’re pregnant, there will be instances when you’ll crave weird smells and tastes, and this includes the smell of rubbing alcohol. If you smell rubbing alcohol during pregnancy once or twice, it likely won’t affect you or your baby. But prolonged exposure is not recommended because of the adverse effects it can have.

If you inhale large amounts of rubbing alcohol, it can cause nausea, vomiting, throat irritations, and even difficulty breathing.

Can smelling rubbing alcohol during pregnancy help with nausea?

Some pregnant women crave rubbing alcohol because of nausea. In a way, rubbing alcohol provides a sense of comfort and cleanliness to pregnant women which is sometimes why they crave this smell.

If you have this craving, you can occasionally smell rubbing alcohol because there are studies that show that smelling alcohol can help ease nausea and morning sickness.

Morning sickness and nausea are common symptoms of pregnancy and can be bothersome, especially in the first trimester. There are a lot of homemade tools that you can use to help with nausea and they include citrus fruits, ginger, and rubbing alcohol. 

According to one study, nauseated patients who sniffed pads saturated with isopropyl alcohol were twice as likely to get relief compared to patients who sniffed pads saturated with saline solution. 

Nausea in pregnancy is often triggered by certain smells and since the smell of rubbing alcohol is so strong, it also masks the smells that make you nauseated, making you less likely to feel sick.

Can I smell hand sanitizer while pregnant?

Other than rubbing alcohol, another common smell craving for pregnant women is the smell of hand sanitizer.

This is also common and smelling hand sanitizer during pregnancy is safe as long as you are doing it occasionally and don’t have prolonged exposure to the sanitizer.

There are studies out there that point out hand sanitizers that contain triclosan might have harmful effects on pregnant women and their babies. In the journal Environmental Research, triclosan was found to reduce thyroid hormones that are beneficial for fetal development and growth. Because of this, it is recommended to choose hand sanitizer without triclosan. 

Pregnant woman holding belly and sitting on floor

Tips to avoid smelling or craving rubbing alcohol while pregnant

If you’re having a strong craving for the smell of rubbing alcohol but are unsure of the effects it will have on you and your baby, you may be looking for a substitute for the scent.

Alternatives to smelling rubbing alcohol include:

  • Essential oils – Depending on what you need to feel (calm, more energy, or help with sleep), there are essential oils that can help you achieve this mood that are not harmful to you or your baby. 
  • Vinegar – Like rubbing alcohol, vinegar has a strong smell, but it is a safer choice.
  • Alcohol wipes – It’s a less concentrated version which means that it will have a similar smell but with less exposure.

If you’re craving the smell of rubbing alcohol, these can be safer options. However, if you’re consistently craving rubbing alcohol and can’t seem to get rid of the craving, be sure to discuss it with your healthcare provider.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Is it okay to smell rubbing alcohol?

While smelling rubbing alcohol briefly is unlikely to affect you, prolonged exposure can be harmful. When it comes to smelling rubbing alcohol during pregnancy, it’s important to ensure you don’t have extensive exposure because it can be harmful to you or your baby.

Why do I randomly smell rubbing alcohol?

Sometimes you might smell something that isn’t really there, which is also known as an olfactory hallucination. There are many possible causes of these hallucinations, including an upper respiratory infection or a head injury.

What chemicals should a pregnant woman stay away from?

Prolonged exposure to chemicals can put pregnant women or their babies at risk. Solvents can be especially dangerous. These chemicals include alcohols, paint thinners, degreasers, and varnish removers.

Can you smell weird things when pregnant?

While there aren’t enough studies done on it, many women claim to experience a heightened sense of smell during pregnancy. It’s often reported that they become very sensitive to certain smells and can even become sick based on smells that didn’t used to bother them.


Pregnancy cravings are incredibly common. Although they can happen for many different reasons, food cravings are usually attributed to the change in hormones. Occasionally, pregnant women can crave non-food items, or even crave certain smells–like rubbing alcohol.

Craving certain smells or non-food items is sometimes linked to iron deficiency. If you have a strange craving and you’re not sure why, be sure to discuss it with your healthcare provider to ensure you’re getting all the nutrients you need.

Joshua Bartlett
Joshua Bartlett

My name is Joshua Bartlett I run this blog with my wife Jarah. We have more than 11 years of parenting experience including three girls and one boy. I started this blog in late 2018 when I realized that I was dealing with baby-related issues on a constant basis…please read more about me here!