From woodworking and degreasing to deep cleaning, denatured alcohol is a powerful cleaning tool you can use in your home. We’ll explain what it is, and how you can use it safely.
A “denatured” substance is deprived of its natural quality. So, denatured alcohol is ethanol (the kind you drink in spirits, beer, and wine) with an extra ingredient or two, which makes it unfit for human consumption. But why would you do this?
Well, in some countries (like the U.S.), consumable alcohol is heavily taxed. If it’s denatured, though, companies can sell ethanol as a cleaner without having to pay high taxes on it.
While different additives are used in different countries (and in different contexts), the most common additive in the U.S. is methanol. However, acetone, gasoline, or isopropanol can also be added. A common blend is 2:3 ethanol and 1:3 methanol.
You can use denatured alcohol (also known as methylated spirits) in both domestic and industrial settings, and in many different ways. It’s often used as a solvent, cleaning agent, fuel additive, and even as a pest exterminator.
We’ll cover safety concerns in more depth later on. However, please keep in mind that while denatured alcohol is safe to use on surfaces, it is not safe to use on skin.
Warning: Denatured alcohol, when ingested or absorbed through the skin, is highly toxic. Do not use it for first aid or to sanitize your hands.
You absolutely should not use it to make homemade hand sanitizer, or to disinfect skin or wounds. Methanol is toxic and drinking it or soaking your skin in it can lead to blindness, neurological damage, or death.
With that very stern warning in place, let’s take a look at some safe uses for denatured alcohol.
Denatured alcohol offers the following advantages as a household cleaner:
- It has antibacterial properties: Very few microbes can survive contact with a blend of ethanol and methanol.
- It works fast: You can achieve the desired results in a shorter amount of time than you can with an average commercial detergent or degreaser.
- It evaporates quickly: This makes it perfect for cleaning porous surfaces, like wood and moisture-sensitive metals. It’s also the best cleaner for windows and glass, as it doesn’t streak.
The best part is denatured alcohol is dirt cheap compared to commercial cleaners. A gallon of denatured alcohol will run you about $10 to $15 at your local hardware store. If that’s too much at one time, it’s easy enough to buy it in smaller quantities like a quart and even a pint.
You’ll typically find denatured in the paint and stain aisle as it is used frequently in that application to degrease things, clean tools, and so on. If for some reason the paint aisle doesn’t have it, there’s a good chance there will be smaller containers of it located in the camping section. Denatured alcohol is used for some types of backpacking stoves and heaters.
You can order it online, but it’s expensive and a hassle. It is highly flammable and requires extra handling, can’t be shipped by air, and you’ll usually end up paying 2-4 times (or more) what you would pay at the local store for the same product. Outside of ordering large quantities of denatured alcohol for commercial or industrial use, it just makes sense to pop into the local hardware store.
When diluted correctly, you can use denatured alcohol for a variety of purposes around the home. It works as both a general cleaner and sanitizer when you dilute it with equal parts of warm water. Of course, you should always wear gloves and apply the alcohol with a cloth or sponge.
There are also some very specific applications in which methylated spirits come in handy. Let’s take a look at some of the most common.
This solution can be a savior when it comes to dealing with ink or wine stains. Whether it’s a hard or textile surface, soak a cloth or cotton ball in denatured alcohol, and then apply it gently to the affected area.
To be extra cautious, test the solution on a hidden part of the fabric to make sure it’s colorfast and resistant to the alcohol. Let the alcohol sit for a few minutes, and then wipe the surface to remove the stain.
You can also use this trick to remove paint or nail polish from wooden surfaces. However, don’t use denatured alcohol on wood furniture with a traditional shellac finish as the alcohol will soften the shellac.
As we mentioned above, denatured alcohol makes an ideal glass cleaner because it evaporates quickly and doesn’t streak. Fill a spray bottle with the diluted solution (use a 1:1 ratio of water and denatured alcohol) and spray it on the glass surface of your choice.
Cosywell Glass Spray Bottles
These spray bottles are great for mixing up homemade cleaning solutions.
Wipe it with a lint-free cloth or paper towel and watch as smudges and fingerprints disappear before your eyes!
If you’ve already filled a spray bottle with diluted denatured alcohol, keep it around in case you ever find mold around the house.
This solution can get rid of that nuisance in just a few minutes. It leaves the affected surface clean after only a little wiping. You can also use it on leather surfaces, although it’s not suitable for dyed leather or suede.
If your house plant is coming down with a mealybug infestation, you can nurse it back to health with a little love and (you guessed it!) that magical chemical, denatured alcohol.
First, take your plant outside and spray it with water. Next, soak a cotton ball or cloth in denatured alcohol, gently wipe the infected parts of the plant, and then let it air-dry.
Methylated spirits can also take care of a red spider mite infestation. All you have to do is mix five parts of water with one part of the solution, and apply it where needed.
Whether you’re doing some woodworking or painting old furniture, you’ll likely have to deal with some residual glue or unwanted wax. It’s also an amazing tool for removing shellac. Shellac is, believe it or not, an organic varnish made from beetle shells. The denatured alcohol eats right into it and if you soak a shellac sealed piece of furniture and wait, you’ll be able to lift the shellac right off with a razor scraper or rag.
To get rid of any of these so they don’t slow down your progress, just rub the wooden surface with a cloth soaked in denatured alcohol, and voilà! You can continue with your DIY project.
Even though methylated spirits might sound like a godsend, always keep in mind that it’s a toxic chemical. Do not let it come in contact with any part of your body, and definitely do not ingest it. Ingestion or significant skin-based absorption can cause blindness or even death. For these reasons, keep it away from children and store it in a dark, cool place.
Like rubbing alcohol, this solution is also highly flammable. Never leave it in direct sunlight or near an open flame. It’s also always best to work with this chemical in a well-ventilated room to avoid respiratory irritation.
SteadMax Cleaning Gloves
Denatured alchol is an amazing cleaner but you don't want to absorb it through your skin. Wear these gloves while using it.
Treat denatured alcohol as you would any other strong cleaner, like ammonia or bleach. Definitely open a window and wear gloves while using it, and be sure to store it properly.
If you take these precautions and treat denatured alcohol with the same respect you would any other strong cleaner, it’s a great fast-acting, cleaner! Plus, its antibacterial properties can be used on a wide variety of hard surfaces.