Denatured Alcohol vs Non-Denatured Ethanol - What's different and what's the same?

About denatured alcohol vs nondenatured ethanol - Culinary Solvent

Not all alcohols are created equal.  Ethanol is an alcohol, but not all alcohols are ethanol. Only pure ethanol, containing no additives, is considered safe for body and skin. Use this page to understand the differences between "denatured alcohol" and "non-denatured alcohol", including what makes Culinary Solvent the best substitute for applications calling for denatured alcohol.

What is denatured alcohol?

Denatured alcohol, or also Specially Denatured Alcohol SDA, is ethyl alcohol plus some toxic additive chemical.  This chemical, the denaturant, may be any number of the approved additives by the federal government based on the additive's toxicity to humans.  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, and are inherently toxic by their nature.  Because of this additive, denatured alcohol is exempt from the Federal Excise Taxes imposed on pure non-denatured ethanol. 

What is nondenatured ethanol?

Nondenatured means no additives. Nondenatured ethanol is pure ethyl alcohol, which also goes by the name "ethanol".  Only nondenatured ethanol is "food safe" and "safe for consumption".  Nondenatured ethanol is the same alcohol found in beverage products below 100 proof, or in non-beverage products available in 190 proof (95%ABV) and 200 proof (100%ABV Anhydrous Alcohol).

Can nondenatured ethanol be substituted for denatured alcohol?

Yes. Nondenatured ethanol can be substituted for recipes calling for denatured alcohol.  Be sure to choose a nondenatured ethanol with zero water (200 proof) or as high as 5% water (190 proof) for optimal results.  Ethanol with a higher water content than 5% may not provide the same results, or can affect your project in other ways (crafters applying a French polish for example benefit from 0% water). 

Can denatured alcohol be substituted for nondenatured ethanol?

No.  This is important to stress that the toxic additives that make an alcohol denatured mean it is not possible to substitute denatured ethanol for recipes that call for "nondenatured ethanol".  Not all alcohols are created equal, liquids labeled as "denatured alcohol" are guaranteed to contains toxic additives and should be avoided if there is chance of human exposure.

Learn More About Non-Denatured Ethanol

When shopping for denatured alcohol or nondenatured ethanol, knowing the key industry terms will help you buy smart. Get familiar with the following important terms:

“Non-denatured” means “No Additives”
  • Only nondenatured ethanol is PURE ethanol.
  • "Undenatured ethanol" is synonymous with Nondenatured.
  • Nondenatured ethanol is food safe, and safe for human consumption as a tincture, extract, or concentrate.
“Denatured” means “Toxic Additives” + Ethanol
  • Additives eligible as denaturants are approved based on their human toxicity
  • All denatured ethanol is poisonous and unfit for human consumption.
  • Licenses, permits, fees and some taxes still apply to denatured alcohol in many instances.
Dehydrating the last 5% water
  • Water and ethanol in solution at 95.63% ABV (191.26 proof) form an azeotrope or “constant boiling point mixture”.  This means normal distillation alone cannot remove the last 4.37% of water.  Another process must be applied to eliminate the water.
  • Some manufacturers dehydrate the remaining water with harmful chemicals like methanol or benzene.  These chemicals are also toxic to humans and alcohol products dehydrated with methanol or benzene are not considered food safe.
  • The safest way to dehydrate ethanol uses a device called a "molecular sieve".  Engineered from ceramic, molecular sieves literally trap the water molecule from the alcohol solution, resulting in a dehydrated 100% ethanol leaving the system.

3 Questions to Always Ask About Your Alcohol:

  1. Where was this ethanol distilled?
  2. Is this ethanol “Non-Denatured” or “Denatured”?
  3. How was the last 5% water dehydrated out of the ethanol?

Where Can I Buy Non-Denatured Alcohol?

Consumers seeking an alternative to denatured alcohol can purchase non-denatured ethanol direct from the distillery in Maine.  Available in pints, quarts, gallons, and bulk discounts too.  USDA Certified organic distilled from non-gmo corn.



Approved for California Residents: As of June 2019, California has banned the sale of denatured alcohol. More information available here: California Air Resource Board.  Culinary Solvent is not part of this ban is is fully permitted for sale in California. Read More: How to buy and ship ethanol to California.

Here's our answers to those questions you should always ask....

Where was Culinary Solvent distilled?

We own and operate a distillery in Northern Maine where we distill beverage and non-beverage ethanol products.  Get to know the people that make Culinary Solvent.

Is Culinary Solvent denatured or non-denatured?

Culinary Solvent is non-denatured, pure ethyl alcohol containing zero additives.

How is Culinary Solvent dehydrated?

Culinary Solvent achieves 200 proof (0% water using a molecular sieve process). Free of benzene, methanol, and other toxic additives or impurities. 

What is SDA 40b Alcohol for Perfumers?

The letters SDA are an acronym that stands for Special Denatured Alcohol, and the characters "40b" denote the recipe of denaturants added to the alcohol in it's production.  Alcohol labeled SDA 40b contains up to 0.12 percent of a toxic chemical t-butyl alcohol.  According to, Tert-Butanol or tert-butyl alcohol, is a tertiary alcohol that has a hydroxy group at position 2 making it isobutane substitute. The website continues to describe Tert-butyl alcohol as having a colorless oily liquid that "produces an irritating vapor".  

Does SDA 40b Alcohol Have an Odor?

According to the EPA's database on toxic substances, Tert-butyl alcohol, the common additive in SDA 40b denatured alcohol recipes, has a "camphor-like odor".  This inherent base note brought by the denaturing agent is present in the starting alcohol will further compound with fragrances brought by the ethanol itself, as described by raw material choices below.

Is the additive tert-Butyl (SDA 40b) safe for perfumers alcohol?

Tert-Butyl alcohol, the toxic additive denaturant found in SDA 40b alcohol, is listed in Wikipedia as irritating to the skin or eyes.  Considering that tert-butyl is "poorly absorbed through the skin but rapidly absorbed if inhaled or ingested"  its recommended to avoid alcohols for perfumery that are denatured with tert-butyl. 


1 comment

  • chuck Visnic

    can i burn culinary solvent in a bunson burner?

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