Apparently it is common to briefly soak reeds in rubbing alcohol to disinfect them. This could be due to sickness, reed-sharing, etc.
Any thoughts on how damaging this would be to the cane?
Rubbing alcohol is used on reeds only when one wants to share the reed with someone else. Disinfecting between playings is not necessary. But in the instance of a teacher/student trading instruments, alcohol is a useful tool.
Alcohol has no negative effects on a reed. In my experience, it doesn't even get rid of the dark (mold) spots that gather in the heart of the reed.
In my research, sites that dealt with very maticulous reed care did not mention use of alcohol to disinfect the reed, just precise instructions for how to wet the reed prior to use and in conditioning a reed for playing, then thorough drying and storage of the reed after playing.
Where I did encounter mention of alcohol use and hydrogen peroxide solutions was on musician discussion boards. This thread was of particular interest in terms of how wind musicians use these products and what they recommend. There is one comment, in particular, that mentions that the peroxide will bring up the cane fibers of the reed and will need to be flattened again, post-soaking. They all seem to agree that the reed should be soaked as briefly as possible and in a diluted solution of hydrogen peroxide:
They also mentioned a product called "REEDLIFE" that disinfects and helps hydrate reeds. This is a link to a site that sells "REEDLIFE" (for informational purposes):