Evaporation of alcohol droplets on surfaces in moist air

Lisong Yang, Amir A. Pahlavan, Howard A. Stone, Colin D. Bain

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Droplets of alcohol-based formulations are common in applications from sanitizing sprays to printing inks. However, our understanding of the drying dynamics of these droplets on surfaces and the influence of ambient humidity is still very limited. Here, we report the drying dynamics of picoliter droplets of isopropyl alcohol deposited on a surface under controlled humidity. Condensation of water vapor in the ambient environment onto alcohol droplets leads to unexpectedly complex drying behavior. As relative humidity (RH) increases, we observed a variety of phenomena including enhanced spreading, nonmonotonic changes in the drying time, the formation of pancake-like shapes that suppress the coffee-ring effect, and the formation of water-rich films around an alcohol-rich drop. We developed a lubrication model that accounts for the coupling between the flow field within the drop, the shape of the drop, and the vapor concentration field. The model reproduces many of the experimentally observed morphological and dynamic features, revealing the presence of unusually large spatial compositional gradients within the evaporating droplet and surface-tension-gradient-driven flows arising from water condensation/evaporation at the surface of the droplet. One unexpected feature from the simulation is that water can evaporate and condense concurrently in different parts of the drop, providing fundamental insights that simpler models based on average fluxes lack. We further observed rim instabilities at higher RH that are well-described by a model based on the Rayleigh–Plateau instability. Our findings have implications for the testing and use of alcohol-based disinfectant sprays and printing inks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2302653120
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number38
StatePublished - Sep 19 2023
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


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