Denatured Alcohol vs. Undenatured Ethanol

Ethyl alcohol (ethanol) is a type of alcohol, but not all alcohols are ethanol.  Only pure ethanol, containing no additives, is considered safe for the body and skin.  Pure ethanol, like Culinary Solvent, is non-denatured, which is critical to it being food grade (safe for consumption).  This page is intended to help you understand the differences between denatured alcohol and undenatured ethanol, as well as how and when it is safe to substitute denatured and undenatured alcohol for your extractions, tinctures, projects, and more. 

What is Denatured Alcohol? Definition and Composition Explained.

Denatured alcohol, or also commonly referred to as "alcohol denat." or specially denatured alcohol (SDA), is ethanol plus some toxic additive chemical.  This chemical, the denaturant, may be any number of federally approved additives, based on their overall toxicity to humans if consumed or to come in contact with the skin. 

The primary purpose of adding a denaturant is to inhibit consumption for the purpose of intoxication

Denatured alcohols are not denatured for enhanced performance or longevity -- they are denatured so as to be toxic to consume.  Due to the toxicity of these additives, denatured alcohol is exempt from the federal excise taxes imposed on pure, non-denatured ethanol, however, other taxes may apply, and other permits or licenses might be required for purchase. 

Denatured Alcohol Terminology (*2)

  • Alcohol - The spirits known as ethyl alcohol, ethanol, or spirits of wine, from whatever source or by whatever process produced. The term does not include such spirits as whisky, brandy, rum, gin, or vodka.
  • Alcohol Denat. - A common abbreviation signifying "Denatured Alcohol" in a recipe or process.
  • CDA - Completely Denatured Spirits.  These spirits have been denatured pursuant to completely denatured alcohol formulas prescribed in subpart C of Title27, Chapter 1, Subchapter A, Part 21.
  • Denatured Alcohol - Ethanol that has been modified with additional chemicals, making it unfit for human consumption. The denaturing process typically involves adding substances like methanol, isopropyl alcohol, or other bitterants and toxins. This alteration ensures that the alcohol cannot be ingested safely.
  • Denaturant - A material authorized by this part to be added to spirits in order to make those spirits unfit for beverage or internal human medicinal use.
  • Formula - A specific recipe or composition that indicates the type and quantity of ethanol and denaturants to be used. These formulas are designed to ensure that the denatured alcohol meets certain safety and effectiveness standards, making it unsuitable for consumption while suitable for its intended industrial or commercial use. The TTB reviews and approves these formulas to regulate the production and use of denatured alcohol.
  • Mineral Spirits: A petroleum-derived solvent used in painting and decorating for thinning oil-based paints and cleaning brushes.
  • Methanol: Also known as wood alcohol, it's a simple alcohol used as a solvent, antifreeze, fuel, and in the production of biodiesel.
  • Methylated Spirits: Ethanol mixed with methanol to prevent consumption, often dyed and used as a fuel or solvent.
  • MSDS (SDS) Sheet - Material Safety Data Sheet, more commonly referred to as just SDS.  These sheets describe the properties and components of chemicals or chemical solutions and are required by OSHA to have on file if you use a certain chemical in your commercial operation. 
  • Reagent Alcohol - Reagent alcohol consists of ethyl alcohol that has been denatured with two additional substances: it contains roughly 5% methyl alcohol and an additional 5 parts per hundred of isopropyl alcohol. (*1)
  • SDA - Specially Denatured Spirits. These spirits have been denatured pursuant to the specially denatured alcohol formulas authorized under subpart D of of Title27, Chapter 1, Subchapter A, Part 21
  • SDS - Specially Denatured Spirits abbreviation used by the TTB.
  • TTB - The United States regulatory agency for alcohol, including beverage alcohol, industrial alcohol, denatured alcohol, and food grade nondenatured alcohol.
  • Undenatured - aka "Non-Denatured" is pure ethanol without any added chemicals or denaturants, making it safe for consumption and suitable for uses requiring high-quality ethanol, such as in food, beverages, and medical applications.
  • USP - The United States Pharmacopoeia. The latest edition is intended unless otherwise specified.

What Makes Alcohol "Denatured"?

Alcohol becomes "denatured" when specific chemicals are added to ethanol (ethyl alcohol) to make it unfit for human consumption. These additives, which can include methanol, isopropanol, acetone, and others, are introduced to ethanol to alter its taste, smell, and effects, thereby preventing misuse as a beverage.

Who Regulates and Approves Denaturants for Denatured Alcohol Formulas?

Denatured alcohols are regulated by the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau ( Each denatured alcohol blend has specific approved formulas that manufacturers must adhere to. These formulas specify the types and amounts of denaturants that can be added to ethanol to make it denatured alcohol, ensuring consistency and safety standards across different products and uses.  Some denatured formulas are simple additions of 1 chemical, like methanol, while other formulas are more complicated and thus given designations of Specially Denatured Alcohol (SDA) or Completely Denatured Alcohol (SDA).  For example SDA 40B is a specially approved denatured formula by the TTB containing tert-Butyl alcohol and denatonium benzoate, where CDA 12A contains methanol, isopropanol, and methyl isobutyl ketone.

Common Additives in Denatured Alcohol

Common denaturants used in alcohol include methanol, a highly toxic substance that can cause severe health effects; isopropyl alcohol, which is commonly found in rubbing alcohol and can be poisonous if ingested; acetone, a solvent with a strong odor commonly used in nail polish remover; and methyl ethyl ketone, another solvent with a distinct smell. These additives make the alcohol unpalatable and unsafe for consumption, effectively deterring its use as a beverage.

  • Methanol (Methyl Alcohol): As a cost-effective and effective denaturing agent, methanol is widely used in industrial-grade ethanol. Its ability to render ethanol poisonous and unpalatable directly impacts the cost, making it a popular choice for applications like solvents and antifreeze.  Methanol can be found in CDA 12A (Completely Denatured Alcohol) formulas.

  • Isopropanol (Isopropyl Alcohol): Isopropanol, also referred to as rubbing alcohol, is valued for its antiseptic qualities and is often used in sanitizing products or skin. Isopropyl alcohol can be found in CDA 12A (Completely Denatured Alcohol) and SDA 3C (Specially Denatured Alcohol) formulas.  

  • Bitrex (Denatonium Benzoate): Known as one of the most bitter substances, Bitrex is used in minimal quantities to make ethanol extremely bitter. Its primary role is to discourage ingestion, especially in consumer-accessible products. The requirement for such a potent bittering agent can affect the pricing of the final product, particularly in safety-focused applications.  Denatonium Benzoate is combined with tert-Butyl alcohol to make SDA 40B (Specially Denatured Alcohol) formulas.  

Applications and Uses of Denatured Alcohol

Industrial Uses For Denatured Alcohol

In industrial settings, SDA is used in the production of chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and as a cleaning agent due to its effectiveness in dissolving oils and other substances. It's also used in processes like the manufacture of inks, coatings, and personal care products. Additionally, SDA is involved in chemical synthesis, where it's transformed into other compounds such as ethyl acetate; acetic acid, commonly used in vinegar; ethyl ether, used as a solvent and anesthetic; and different esters, which are key in manufacturing fragrances and flavorings.

Everyday & Commercial Uses for Denatured Alcohol

Denatured alcohol is commonly found in everyday products and applications. It's used as a cleaning agent due to its ability to dissolve dirt and oils, making it effective for cleaning glass and metals. In personal care, it's often an ingredient in cosmetics and skin care products including perfume, deodorant, body spray, room sprays. Denatured alcohol also serves as a fuel for camping stoves and marine stoves, providing a clean-burning and efficient source of heat.

Denatured vs. Nondenatured: Perfumers Alcohol

Searching for "perfumer's alcohol" online typically returns SDA 40B denatured alcohol products. Historically, perfumers faced a choice between denatured alcohol with toxic additives and beverage alcohol that impacted their recipes due to water content. Now, there's a safer option available: 200 proof non-beverage, food-grade alcohol, which is a full-strength product free of additives, offering a superior alternative for perfumery, balancing safety and quality.

About Denatured Alcohol in California

As of June 2019, California has banned the sale of denatured alcohol. More information available here.

As non-denatured ethanol, Culinary Solvent is still fully permitted for sale in California.  See our page about how to buy and ship food grade ethanol to California.

Limitations and Safety Considerations of Denatured

Although denatured alcohol does not have the Federal Excise Tax applied to non-denatured alcohol, there are still tax and permit implications that users sourcing denatured alcohol should consider when making a buying decision.

Tax Implications of Denatured Alcohol

Denatured alcohol offers notable financial benefits, primarily due to its exemption from the higher excise duties imposed on consumable alcohol.  This exemption arises because denaturing renders ethanol unfit for human consumption. Consequently, industries requiring ethanol for non-food purposes, especially in the industrial sector, can benefit financially as well. They can use denatured alcohol without incurring the additional upfront tax burden often associated with standard ethanol. This tax exemption makes denatured alcohol a more cost-effective option in various industries.

Permits and Legal Implications of Denatured Alcohol

Although denatured alcohol is not taxed the same as non-denatured alcohol, denatured alcohol is not entirely absent of fees, taxes or additional regulation on the Federal and (sometimes) State level.  Under the Tax and Trade Bureau's regulations, individuals are permitted a one-time purchase of up to five gallons without a TTB Specially Denatured Sprits and Tax Free Alcohol Permit. For subsequent purchases after the initial 5-gallons, an Industrial Alcohol User Permit (PDF download) is required.  View the TTB's complete list of Non-beverage alcohol forms and permits related to denatured alcohol.

If you obtain "reagent alcohol" in containers exceeding 4 liters, a letterhead application must be filed with TTB.

Where to buy Denatured Alcohol

Hardware Stores: Denatured Alcohol at Home Depot

Online Suppliers



Factors affecting Denatured Alcohol Pricing

Packaging Size Effect on Pricing

The packaging size of your denatured alcohol product will affect the final pricing.  Suppliers offering bulk packaging (5 gallons and more) are often able to utilize economies of scale in their operation offering more cost effective choices, especially when considering buying denatured alcohol at Home Depot, buying denatured alcohol at Lowes, or buying denatured alcohol at Walmart.  

Alcohol Origins: Natural or Synthetic

Ethyl alcohol, is sourced either naturally through fermentation of organic materials like grains and fruits, or synthetically via the chemical hydration of ethylene.

Natural ethanol, used in food and beverages, requires additional distillation for purity and retains unique flavors from its source.

Conversely, synthetic ethanol, produced from petroleum derivatives, offers cost-effectiveness and purity, making it suitable for industrial applications like solvents and cleaners, though it lacks the sustainability of naturally fermented ethanol.

Local Rules & Regulations Effect on Pricing

Local rules and regulations can markedly affect the price of denatured alcohol, as evidenced by the situation in California. The state's stringent environmental laws led to a ban on specific types of denatured alcohol, primarily due to their volatile organic compounds contributing to air pollution. This ban not only limited the availability of certain denatured alcohol products but also pushed suppliers to reformulate their offerings to comply with these regulations. Such reformulations often entail increased production costs, stemming from the use of alternative denaturants and compliance procedures. Consequently, this leads to higher prices for consumers and businesses in California, as the market adjusts to these regulatory demands.


Three Questions to Always Ask About Your Alcohol

When choosing ethanol to use for your projects, be it tinctures, extractions, or something else, there are three questions you should always ask before making your selection: 

  • Where was this ethanol distilled?
  • Is this ethanol non-denatured or denatured?
  • For 100% alcohol by volume (ABV)/200 proof ethanol, how was the last 5% water dehydrated out of the ethanol?

 How Does Culinary Solvent Answer? 

How is Culinary Solvent distilled? Pot stills.  Culinary Solvent is produced by the Northern Maine Distilling Company in Brewer, Maine using a one-of-a-kind 50-gallon stainless steel and copper pot stills, making it the best food grade alcohol available.  Read more about our distilling process here.
Is Culinary Solvent denatured or non-denatured? Non-denatured.  Culinary Solvent is non-denatured, containing zero additives.  Culinary Solvent is food grade, which means it is completely safe for consumption and to use on the skin.
How is Culinary Solvent dehydrated to 200 proof (100% ABV)? Molecular sieve.  Culinary Solvent achieves 200 proof (100% ABV) using a molecular sieve process, preserving its food grade nature and rendering it free of benzene, methanol, or other toxic additives or impurities. 

Citations and Sources of Information

Denatured Alcohol FAQs

No, denatured alcohol contains additives that make it unsuitable for consumption.

Source your alcohol products direct from the distillery that makes it from

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