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Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D.

What Is Denatured Alcohol?

By March 26, 2014

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I've been asked that question often, so here's the answer: Denatured alcohol is ethanol (ethyl alcohol) that has been made unfit for human consumption by adding another chemical to it. Denaturing refers to removing a property from the alcohol (being able to drink it), not to chemically altering or decomposing it.

There are hundreds of ways ethanol is denatured. Denatured alcohol that is intended for use as a fuel or solvent typically contains 5% or more methanol. Methanol is flammable and has a boiling point close to that of ethanol. Methanol is absorbed across the skin and is highly toxic, so when I recommend people not use denatured alcohol for making perfume or bath products, my reason is that you usually don't know what has been added to the ethanol. Denatured alcohol for use in cosmetics often contains water and a bittering agent (Bitrex or Aversion which are denatonium benzoate or denatonium saccharide), but other chemicals are sometimes used. Other common additives include (but are not limited to) isopropanol, methyl ethyl ketone, methyl isobutyl ketone, pyridine, benzene, diethyl phthalate, and naphtha. In some countries, denatured alcohol must be colored blue or purple using an aniline dye, in order to distinguish it from consumption-grade ethanol.

How To Purify Alcohol with Distillation | Ingredients in Rubbing Alcohol


March 16, 2009 at 6:56 am
(1) Elizabeth says:

hello, may i know that can carrot be made into pH indicator? what’s the procedure? reply as soon as possible. thanks

March 25, 2009 at 2:25 pm
(2) Siphosihle says:

So what really is in the ethanol that makes people to want more of alcohol to drink?

January 25, 2010 at 10:33 am
(3) Tracey says:

I have a Bird of paradise plant that has scale insects on it; and in my plant book it says thatI can wipe off the scales w/ denatured alcohol. What should I do?

October 15, 2010 at 10:50 am
(4) Ash says:

I would like to know if vanilla essence that is made with denatured alcohol toxic?

December 14, 2010 at 9:18 am
(5) Oduye oluwakemi says:

I use a facial cleanser that has ‘denatured alcohol’ as 1 of its ingredients…i’d luv to know if it is harmful to the skin so i can take precaution n stop using it….Awaiting your reply…..Thank you…

March 11, 2011 at 11:27 am
(6) Rohit Patel says:

This is really a helpful explanation for Denatured Alcohol.

Thank you

June 7, 2011 at 9:11 am
(7) Anne says:

I would like to ask why a paper bill soak in a denatured alcohol w/ water when fired up didn’t get burn

August 10, 2011 at 8:49 am
(8) malik says:

it is the vapors that catch fire…if this thing is placed at high temperature and the vapors are coming out then try it…. hope you will burn your face :)

September 10, 2011 at 8:22 am
(9) Buz Page says:

I trying to determine what type of alcohol to use as a fuel for a copper alembic perfume distiller. It has an open flame burner.

Any advice would be appreciated.

September 30, 2011 at 12:02 pm
(10) Stephen Wolfe says:

Question? Is denatured alcohol and methylated spirit the same?

November 27, 2011 at 6:32 pm
(11) Baron says:

What can be used to bring down the pH value of a product to specific value?

November 29, 2011 at 1:20 am
(12) Anonymous says:

Thank you I was always wondering what it was but I never knew it was a chemical type , how much is toxic to the human body? Because Ive had many alcohol problems been to rehab aall that but anyways I used to drink numerous bottles of mouth wash and I noticed it has dentures alcohol in it , is that the same type ?

January 12, 2012 at 1:44 am
(13) Annoh annoh says:

I’ve really gained from this what gives alcohol its characteristic sweet smell is it the functional group?

March 31, 2012 at 5:59 am
(14) vedha says:


April 11, 2012 at 1:03 am
(15) john says:

Is it possible to return denatured alcohol to a state of consumption?

June 21, 2012 at 7:20 pm
(16) Sheri Olson says:

Please help! My 7 year old grandaughter bites her nails. I have tried
Organic nail polish. She wants something to be put on her nails,
Like control it. The concern is possible phthalates in the list of
Denatonium saccharide
Glyceryl steerage se
Ceylon alcohol
Methyl paraben
Propyl paraben
She and I both thank you!

July 10, 2012 at 9:05 pm
(17) FennMD says:

well written. thank you.

September 30, 2012 at 10:45 am
(18) Harold Mamuya says:

Can Denatured Alcohol be manufactured from cashew apple?

January 5, 2013 at 8:47 am
(19) cral Dogman says:

Me not to like drinkem dat stuff. What its make from at? Natured is remove from the regular kind! Duh.

January 24, 2013 at 3:28 pm
(20) JIM TANNER says:

Where can denatured alcohol be purchased. I use it to bring out the grain pattern in wood.

January 30, 2013 at 7:32 pm
(21) Simon says:

Could you tell me the standard/specification of Denatured Alcohol?

February 11, 2013 at 3:15 am
(22) shrikant says:

How Bitrex is dissolved in Ethanol? Is it readily soluble in ethanol?

April 17, 2013 at 9:05 am
(23) Ayalayala says:

Go to convenience store dat sel liqua! Ask for Budweiser!

June 16, 2013 at 9:41 pm
(24) GIGI says:

Some electronic cigarettes use denature alcohol what are the odds against the whole thing blowing up in you face?

August 31, 2013 at 6:34 am
(25) Blakely Jones M.L.S. (ASCP) says:

Yes you are able to use carrot juice as a pH indicator, that link should help you.

Ethanol in of itself is a depressant and can be addictive.

It probably wont hurt you in such low amounts that you would be using vanilla extract for. But if it made you feel better you could always use a more natural alternative extracted with ethanol.

@Oduye oluwakemi
Alcohol is a drying agent and in any form would be best to stay away from, unless the issue is too oily or wet skin. That being said a nice facial cleaner for sensitive skin and a shine defense moisturizer would be best.

Because the vapor pressure of the alcohol is higher than that of the water, so they separate. the alcohol is flammable and burns while the paper stays moist with water and does not go above the boiling point of the water.

Hydrochloric acid would be best.
Or vinegar, it is all dependant on the outcome you are looking for. Any acid will do the trick.

It would be easier to just make new ethanol! haha

Not very high, alcohol need oxygen to combust. It would likely if badly failed would only light on fire and fizzle. (HIGHLY UNLIKELY)

Necromancing these posts like a boss.

October 8, 2013 at 11:48 pm
(26) Veronica says:

Just wondering what a safe alternative to denatured alcohol would be able to be used in body products that I make? Something that would do the same job as denatured alcohol does for the product. Thankyou

October 31, 2013 at 11:32 pm
(27) babak says:

Very helpful explanation!
Thanks a lot

December 23, 2013 at 4:48 am
(28) Kaavya says:

@ Sheri Olson: try neem oil to try and stop the biting (azhadiracta indica). Its terribly bitter, but completely natural and no side effects.

January 27, 2014 at 12:38 pm
(29) CJ says:


Thanks for this post. I have been considering making room sprays and body sprays.

Would 99% isopropyl alcohol work for either of these? I am trying to avoid preserving otherwise.


February 4, 2014 at 2:26 am
(30) Ashok says:

you are telling that denatured alcohol is not to use in cosmetics and Deodorents..May i know the Alternative to make a Deodorents??.. Because,i am using this one is a Solvent in my Formulation

February 5, 2014 at 2:29 pm
(31) Jacob says:

Ok The reason this topic is so confusion for some is because the term “denatured” has been used incorrectly from a biological/o-chem standpoint, but the use of denatured in “denatured alcohol” is just saying simply that its deviating from its (natural more or less) state that is a consumable state as a preventative for human ingestion.

The term denatured in terms for biological and chemical scientists/engineers is when a specific protein is altered (loss of conformation) structurally which completely removes its function and is irreversible and can be cause by many influences such as heat, ph, ect.

Now the importance of proteins you ask? Well unless you’ve taken atleast a college intro level biology class, it would be a lot to explain but these are the most sophisticated molecules known, non-recreatable due to its complex structures although their *activities are replicable, and have functions all across the board. Most importantly are their function as they are the reason red blood cells have the capability of “latching” oxygen molecules onto itself and supplying them to your body, as well as amino storage, hormonal responses (testosterone/estrogen for example.) as well as active defensive cells in your immune system.

Denatured alcohol has NO PRESENCE of proteins so the term “denatured” is not being used in a scientific manner, but in the manner webster dictionary “to change the nature or natural quality of…”

Enjoy the peace of mind

February 25, 2014 at 5:29 pm
(32) Harve says:

I was told i could put a cap full in my full gas tank on my car to clean my injectors. Is this ok? Can it catch on fire?

March 21, 2014 at 9:41 pm
(33) Keith says:

Since there is a poison added to denatured alcohol, would that make it unsafe to use one of those indoor fireplaces compared to the bioethanol?

April 29, 2014 at 8:30 pm
(34) Rajneesh Dilshan Jayawardne says:

why thank you anne marie you superstar. you have opened my eyes to the wolrd of chemistry and i wish to pursue a career in dis.

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