Denatured Alcohol vs. Non-Denatured Ethanol

About denatured alcohol vs nondenatured ethanol - Culinary Solvent

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 non-denatured ethanol, as well as how and when it is safe to substitute denatured and non-denatured alcohol for your extractions, tinctures, projects, and more. 

What is Denatured Alcohol?

Denatured alcohol, or also 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. 

About Denatured Alcohol: California Residents

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 ethanol to California.

What are the benefits of using denatured alcohol in terms of lower excise duties?

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. 

What is Non-Denatured Ethanol?

Non-denatured means no additives Only non-denatured ethanol is food grade and safe for consumption.  Sometimes non-denatured ethanol is called un-denatured ethanol.  Non-denatured ethanol is the same alcohol found in beverage products below 100 proof (such as vodka) or in non-beverage products available in 190 proof and 200 proof, like Culinary Solvent. 

Dehydrating 95% ABV to 100% ABV 

The normal distillation process cannot remove all water from ethanol.  At the end of the distillation process for producing any type of ethanol (denatured or otherwise), the resulting ethanol will be at 95.63% alcohol by volume (ABV) or 191.26 proof.  This ABV is an azeotrope or constant boiling point mixture, which cannot be further distilled. 

To remove the last 4.37% of water to achieve 100% ABV or 200 proof ethanol, 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 toxic to humans, and alcohol products dehydrated with methanol or benzene are not considered food grade.

To dehydrate ethanol to 200 proof while preserving its food grade nature, a device called a molecular sieve can be used.  Engineered from ceramic, molecular sieves trap the water molecules without using toxic chemicals.  Therefore, if you are needing non-denatured and food grade 200 proof ethanol for your project, ensure that it has been dehydrated using a molecular sieve and that no other chemicals were added to achieve this process. 

Can Non-Denatured Ethanol be Substituted for Denatured Alcohol?

Yes.  Non-denatured ethanol can substitute denatured alcohol in recipes calling for denatured alcohol.  Be sure to choose a non-denatured 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% (less than 190 proof) may not provide the same results or can affect your project in other ways. 

Can Denatured Alcohol be Substituted for Non-Denatured Ethanol?

No.  Denatured alcohol cannot substitute non-denatured ethanol in recipes calling for non-denatured ethanol.  The toxic additives that make an alcohol denatured mean it is not safe to be substituted for non-denatured ethanol.  Even if your project or application will not be consumed, it is always best and safest to ere on the side of caution and only use non-denatured ethanol in recipes that call for it.

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. 

Denatured vs. Non-Denatured: Perfumers Alcohol

While perfumes and colognes are not to be ingested into the body, (i.e., swallowed or drank), the ingredients in perfumes can still enter the body via the nose and by being absorbed through the body's largest organ: the skin.  Since perfumes are "not for human consumption," it might seem reasonable or appropriate to use denatured alcohol for extractions to create perfumes.  However, because ingredients can still be "ingested" via the nose and skin, non-denatured ethanol is highly recommended when performing extractions to be used in perfumes.   Learn more about perfumers alcohol. 

Denatured Alcohol FAQs

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

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