Alcohol is very important to us at PennCoat. Denatured alcohol, that is. It’s ethanol to which poison — often methanol — has been added to render it non-consumable. We use it every day to clean surfaces and equipment prior to use.
The main ingredient, ethanol, has the formula C2H6O, with two carbon atoms sharing a single bond — similar to ethane except one hydrogen has been replaced by a hydroxyl (OH) group. Ethanol is colorless liquid with a mild aroma. It is less dense than water (0.79 grams per cubic centimeter at 77°F), boils at 173.07°F and freezes below -173°F. It will auto-ignite if heated to 689°F. Its hydroxyl group can form a hydrogen bond, adding to its viscosity and lowering its volatility compared to propane, which weighs about the same as ethanol.
Ethanol is an excellent solvent, easily mixing with water, acetic acid, carbon tetrachloride, toluene, acetone, benzene, ethylene glycol and many other solvents. It’s produced as a product or byproduct of fermentation and by the hydration of ethylene derived from petroleum.
Denaturing ethanol yields an undrinkable liquid that is not subject to alcohol tax. Denaturing doesn’t change the structure of ethanol, it simply introduces a toxic or extremely unpleasant additive. In addition to 5-to 25 percent methanol (as a fuel for stoves, methanol may make up 50 percent), other denaturants include:
- Methyl ethyl ketone
- Methyl isobutyl ketone
- Denatonium (a bitterant)
Denaturants are often chosen because they are difficult to distill separately from ethanol, making it hard to turn denatured alcohol into booze. The usual formula is nine parts ethanol to one part denaturant, though this can vary and multiple denaturants can be used together. Sometimes the denatured alcohol is dyed with methyl violet as a warning against ingestion.
Uses for Denatured Alcohol
Denatured alcohol is a versatile solvent, stain-remover, thinner and cleaner:
- As a solvent, it thins shellac, lacquers, resins and inks
- It’s used to clean up oil- and shellac-based paints off equipment and tools. You can simply soak a brush in a bowl or bucket of denatured alcohol, then wipe with a rag or paper towel. It even works for dried-on paint or shellac.
- Diluted, it’s an excellent glass and window cleaner
- As a degreasing agent, it removes spots, grease, scuffs and surface soils from hard surfaces, including metal, tile, wood and plastic. It should be applied via a cloth or rag. We often use it to help clean surfaces prior to applying a coating or paint.
- Wipe down freshly sanded wood surfaces to raise the grain and then lightly sand for a softer, smoother finish.
- It kills mildew.
- It dissolves glue and removes wax.
- Not for use with acrylic or vinyl.
Needless to say, never drink the stuff because it might kill you. If accidentally swallowed, call a physician, induce vomiting and then drink a solution of baking soda. Here are some precautions:
- Keep container tightly closed and stored in a well-ventilated location
- Keep away from flames, cigarettes and other ignition sources. If it catches on fire, use a Type B (carbon dioxide) extinguisher.
- Avoid breathing in and contract with skin.
- Don’t pour it down drains.
- Don’t store above 120°F.