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Matthew Noykos

Ethanol vs Denatured Alcohol

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We've switched to ethanol alcohol in the recent past for health reasons, but we're trying to figure out if it matters for our alcohol lamps.

Are the fumes given off from burning alcohol more toxic if we use denatured for that purpose?

Ethanol is about 5 times as much as denatured so it does make a difference financially.

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After talking to my wife (who is a chemist) and she said that burning ketones (some of the additives) will cause birth defects and the answer is a resounding YES.

However if you can find a Denatured with additives of methanol or isopropal alcohol AKA rubbing alcohol you would be fine

disclaimer im not the chemist.

Jesse

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I'm betting there is no statistical difference in toxicity of the emissions between the two-the error associated with toxicity of each component is too great and if you tried testing a combusted mixture the CO would kill all the test animals.

While denatured alcohol is usually a mixture of ethanol, methanol and a ketone denaturant, denatured ethanol is generally made by adding naptha which is not a nice mixture either.

Fuels don't tend to be very nice mixtures, you're better off ensuring proper ventilation and good handling practices

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well I am not sure what grain alcohol costs but it is non toxic, you can get it at a liquor store.

In the US, by virtue of being denatured, you get around the alcohol for human consumption tax (I'm sure that isn't the correct name for it).

Just researched it some, I think it is just known as the Federal Excise Tax on alcohol.

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Im not sure i agree with the burning ketones suggestion ,i suppose it depends what it is .But generally its only carbon dioxide and water.

The stuff i use is called IMS(industrial methylated spirits) it is harder to get hold of in the UK but it doesnt contain any nasty smelling purple dye or organic chemicals like pyridine.It is clear and smells just like ethanol.It is if i remember 90% ethanol/10% methanol (wood naptha),but could be 95%/5%.

Funny thing is, is that wood naptha is crude methanol but according to British customs ,

``Please note that methyl alcohol (methanol) is not identical to legally defined wood naphtha, or to any approved wood naphtha substitute. You must not use methanol as a direct substitute for wood naphtha in the manufacture of any type of denatured alcohol.``

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Thanks for the responses. This helps.

As a Doc I know/worry about methanol toxicity (blind) which is essentially "denatured alcohol". I grapple with this because I am using shellac and spirit alot and they are all alcohol based. Cd on french polishing recommends using absolute ethanol. Because of this concern I tried to find absolute ethanol with a low enough water content to be mixed with shellac. Has to be 99+% pure to not cloud up in shellac. In California, equivalent of grain alcohol is only about 96% and totally unacceptable to mix with shellac. Pure reagent grade alcohol is expensive, and there are issues about different additives that allow ethanol to be distilled to 99+% pure.

I gave up on absolute ethanol because of cost, availability. I use hardware store denatured alcohol, which is largely methanol (a poison causes blindness if you drink it and don't get medical help). BTW, the medical antidote for methanol itoxification is an ethanol infusion. Ethanol competes for the same receptors as methanol, so if you stay drunk after a methanol ingestion you do pretty well.

My advice. Use ethanol if you can get it, but beware of its additives. Extensive article on this from the Guild of American Luthiers, Number 105, Spring 2011, page 38. If you use denatured alcohol, use in a ventilated space. I use it extensively, usually with a couple of glasses of wine so the ethanol will prevent methanol toxicity. Not advised in excess or with sharp or moving tools, like bandsaws gouges etc!

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I think that Matt is mainly concerned because of his recent 3 martini lunches. ;)

As a Doc I know/worry about methanol toxicity (blind) which is essentially "denatured alcohol". I grapple with this because I am using shellac and spirit alot and they are all alcohol based. Cd on french polishing recommends using absolute ethanol. Because of this concern I tried to find absolute ethanol with a low enough water content to be mixed with shellac. Has to be 99+% pure to not cloud up in shellac. In California, equivalent of grain alcohol is only about 96% and totally unacceptable to mix with shellac. Pure reagent grade alcohol is expensive, and there are issues about different additives that allow ethanol to be distilled to 99+% pure.

I gave up on absolute ethanol because of cost, availability. I use hardware store denatured alcohol, which is largely methanol (a poison causes blindness if you drink it and don't get medical help). BTW, the medical antidote for methanol itoxification is an ethanol infusion. Ethanol competes for the same receptors as methanol, so if you stay drunk after a methanol ingestion you do pretty well.

My advice. Use ethanol if you can get it, but beware of its additives. Extensive article on this from the Guild of American Luthiers, Number 105, Spring 2011, page 38. If you use denatured alcohol, use in a ventilated space. I use it extensively, usually with a couple of glasses of wine so the ethanol will prevent methanol toxicity. Not advised in excess or with sharp or moving tools, like bandsaws gouges etc!

So Doc, are you saying I should be drinking copious amounts of wine at work? ;) May I go to work tomorrow with a bottle of wine and say, "Doctors orders"? I guess Skywalker wasn't that far off. :lol:

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Im not sure i agree with the burning ketones suggestion ,i suppose it depends what it is .But generally its only carbon dioxide and water.

It is if i remember 90% ethanol/10% methanol (wood naptha),but could be 95%/5%.

Funny thing is, is that wood naptha is crude methanol but according to British customs ,

It's not quite accurate to suggest that ketones are just carbon dioxide and water. That is an over simplification that may lead some to believe that ketones pose no threat at all. The toxicity of ketones does depend on what it is. Generally, simple ketones are not very dangerous; however, one that is often found in denatured alcohol is methyl isobutyl ketone (butanone). This particular one is not particularly safe to burn in the manner that is in question.

When looking at denatured alcohols to find the safest one, it is important to distinguish between methanol versus wood naptha. As you said, wood naptha is a crude form of methanol containing a certain level of impurities. These impurities can include compounds that one may not particularly wish to burn to maintain a certain level of health. It is safest to find the most pure form of denatured alcohol possible - one that contains pure ethanol and pure methanol.

Therefore, to get to the point of the matter: The fumes given off from burning denatured alcohol are more toxic than those given off by pure ethanol.

Having said that, I do not condone the act of burning any chemicals in any area that is not properly ventilated. If I were in the lab burning ethanol, I'd be working under a fume hood with gloves and safety glasses. ;)

-Michelle (aka the chemist)

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Ethanol competes for the same receptors as methanol,

As a Doc you should know that this is not correct. Ethanol reduces the conversion of methanol to formaldehyde and formic by alcohol dehydrogenase.

So you can be pickled by methanol or ethanol, so to speak.

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Thank you for participating Michelle. That is very helpful.

You are quite welcome. I'm glad my chemical knowledge can finally be applied to all this interesting (and sometimes amusing) "luthiery talk".

Michelle

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As a Doc you should know that this is not correct. Ethanol reduces the conversion of methanol to formaldehyde and formic by alcohol dehydrogenase.

So you can be pickled by methanol or ethanol, so to speak.

You have the biochemistry right. I didn't want to get too technical. Ethanol toxicity causes many things, but not blindness. Drunks use methanol for the effect. We treat them with ethanol. Ethanol is the treatment of methanol toxicity.

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I suppose most of us don't do much French polishing these days, but in the past I have had some HORRENDOUS headaches from polishing with denatured alcohol with wood alcohol in it. They put that kind of stuff in because it's poison--it doesn't matter much to your body whether it gets in through your stomach lining, through the skin on your hands, or through your lungs thanks to the airbrush.

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Yeah, and I completely lost my sense of smell, stripping a violin using denatured alcohol...took years to get it back, and it is still not back to normal. If you are going to use it, either get the correct respirator (organic vapor cartridge, I think) or use very good ventilation--as in, outside...

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