10 Uses of Denatured Alcohol

by Lucy Bell-Young

Denatured alcohol, also known as methylated spirits, is ethanol that contains additives in order to deter human consumption. The chemicals added, which are referred to as denaturants, discourage people from drinking the alcohol by making it bad tasting, foul smelling, and nauseating.

During denaturing, the property in alcohol that makes it drinkable is removed. When alcohol has been denatured, its alcohol content can reach 99% and can be deadly if consumed.

Why Denatured Alcohol? 

Denaturants make the alcohol toxic. In some countries, a colour is also added to denatured alcohol so that it can be easily identified. This colour is usually pink or blue, and is achieved using aniline dye. But why make a non-toxic drink toxic?

One of the reasons alcohol is denatured is to protect the health of individuals. The alcohol content in denatured alcohol can range between 70% and 99%. Consuming high proof alcohol can render the individual blind, and can even be fatal. By adding denaturants, this risk is significantly minimised as the additives discourage human consumption.

10 Uses of Denatured Alcohol

Denatured alcohol has a wide range of uses and applications. From household solutions to industrial facilities, this substance surrounds us every day in the form of hand-carved furniture, sanitiser, and even your favourite cosmetic.

  1. Cleaning Agent

Denatured alcohol is widely known for its anti-bacterial properties. This makes it an ideal cleaning agent. It can be used on a variety of hard surfaces, such as wood, plastic, and glass. Its capacity as a solvent also enables it to dissolve grease and stains, as well as remove light scratches from some surfaces.

Its ability to evaporate easily increases the benefits of using denatured alcohol as a cleaning agent. By evaporating quickly, it won’t leave streaks on mirrors or windows. It also means that it can be used to clean metal parts since it evaporates before any damage can be caused to the surface.

  1. Medical Disinfectant

Its status as an anti-bacterial makes denatured alcohol a staple in medical applications where it is used to clean and disinfect hospital surfaces. When used in this way, denatured alcohol prevents bacteria from growing, as well as killing bacteria already present.

Denatured alcohol’s disinfectant properties are also taken advantage of in sanitisers, where it helps to remove bacteria by being an efficient killing agent.

  1. Cosmetics

The anti-bacterial properties of denatured alcohol not only make it well suited to medical and cleaning applications; they also make it one of the most natural preservatives for cosmetic use. This is especially important in the cosmetic industry in order to prevent the spread of pathogens.

Pathogens are microorganisms that can cause disease by being transmitted from one person to another. This can be done via direct or indirect contact. In cosmetics, not only could pathogens spoil the product, they could also put the consumer at risk of infection. However, when denatured alcohol is added to a product it can provide a vital preservation system that impedes the growth of pathogens. It does this because the ethanol drives the water out from the product. This decreases the likelihood of pathogens spreading.

Cosmetics on a bathroom counter

  1. Specimen Preservation

Specimen preservation refers to the long-term preservation of organisms which are kept in the best possible conditions for future observation, morphological studies, and other scientific processes. Many chemical methods are used in specimen preservation. Among these is the use of denatured alcohol, which plays a key role.

Bottles containing samples of organisms are filled with denatured alcohol, which behaves as an excellent long-term preservative. Since denatured alcohol acts as a killing agent, it is able to remove any bacteria on the specimen. The ethanol also drives out the water from the tissue and cells of the organism. This dehydrates the tissue and preserves the DNA. The sample is then kept at a cool temperature to discourage decay.

The percentage of alcohol used is critical in this process. While 90-95% can be used, 70-75% is the preferred percentage when it comes to long-term preservation. This is because a slightly lower alcohol content keeps the specimen somewhat flexible, allowing for morphological studies to take place in the future.

Test tubes with plant specimens

  1. Solvent

Denatured alcohol is perhaps the most widely available solvent. This is because it can be purchased from most hardware stores. It is efficient at dissolving a variety of substances, from glue, wax, and grease, to paint, red wine, and ink stains. Denatured alcohol can be used on a variety of surfaces, including clothing and furniture as long as the alcohol isn’t coloured.

  1. Shellac

Shellac is a natural resin that is used as a finish on pieces of woodwork. Shellac varnish gives wood a lustrous finish, and can even be made at home to give you full control over ingredients and quantity.

When denatured alcohol is combined with shellac, it creates a sticky substance that can be easily applied to the wood. This mixture not only gives a brilliant finish to woodwork, it also protects it from two major things: scratches and UV rays. Therefore, by adding 2 lbs of shellac to 2 gallons of denatured alcohol, you’re ensuring that your woodwork can withstand the test of time.

  1. Sanding

While we’re on the topic of woodwork, denatured alcohol can also provide the ideal sanding aid for your next carpentry project.

Once you have sanded down your piece, take a cloth soaked in denatured alcohol and wipe down the wood. This will remove any excess sawdust that has stuck between the grains of the wood. The fast evaporation process that denatured alcohol undergoes will then allow it to actually raise these grains, resulting in a noticeably smoother surface.

A carpenter working on a piece of wood

  1. Fuel

Because denatured alcohol is cheap and easily transported, it is commonly used as a fuel in oil heaters, such as small camping stoves. Not only is this convenient, it is also a safer alternative as denatured alcohol burns cleanly and can be extinguished easily with water.

However, there is a danger to be aware of when using denatured alcohol as fuel: it creates colourless flames when burned. This means that it could potentially burn you without you realising – so always keep a look out!

  1. Pest Control

Denatured alcohol is an effective insecticide and can be used to eradicate a variety of infestations, from mealy-bugs to bed-bugs. Like any alcohol, denatured alcohol is poisonous in high concentrations. While this won’t damage your plants – or sheets – it will wreak havoc on the bugs and take care of your pest problem. Unlike the percentage used in specimen preservation, the higher the alcohol content the more effective the insecticide.

You can read more about how to use denatured and rubbing alcohol as an insecticide here.

  1. Printmaking

A vital part of printmaking is rosin, a natural substance that is pulverised and used in aquatint. While this is a crucial step, rosin can be dangerous if inhaled – and a nuisance if it gets wet. When rosin gets moist, it becomes incredibly sticky and is difficult to remove. When it is in this state, denatured alcohol is the perfect solvent for dissolving the rosin.

While we are unable to drink denatured alcohol, we definitely benefit from its existence in more than one way. At ReAgent, we sell denatured alcohol in a variety of strengths and sizes so that we can meet the needs of your business. With almost 50 years of industry experience and various ISO accreditations, you can always trust in the quality of our products and service. Get in touch today to find out more.


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