Denatured Alcohol: What It Is and What You Need to Know

What is denatured alcohol in Australia?

Denatured alcohol, also called methylated spirits, or metho for short is a greener alternative to using petroleum-based solvents. Denatured alcohol in Australia, is called Methylated spirits.

Denatured alcohol is a type of alcohol that has been treated to make it poisonous to drink.

This is done to prevent it from being consumed as a food or beverage. Denatured alcohol is used as a solvent and as a fuel.

There are two types of alcohol: ethyl alcohol and methyl alcohol. These are also known as ethanol and methanol.

Ethyl alcohol is the type of pure alcohol found in alcoholic beverages, like beer, wine or spirits.

Methyl alcohol is the type of alcohol found in antifreeze and some cleaning products.

Uses for denatured alcohol

In many countries, sales of alcoholic beverages are heavily taxed for revenue and public health policy purposes.

In order to avoid paying beverage taxes on alcohol that is not meant to be consumed, the alcohol must be “denatured”, or treated with added chemicals to make it unpalatable.

Its composition is tightly defined by government regulations in countries that tax alcoholic beverages.

Denatured alcohol is used identically to ethanol itself except for applications that involve fuel, surgical and laboratory stock.

Pure ethanol is required for food and beverage applications and certain chemical reactions where the denaturant would interfere.

In molecular biology, denatured ethanol should not be used for the precipitation of nucleic acids, since the additives may interfere with downstream applications.[2]

Denatured alcohol has no advantages for any purpose over normal ethanol; it is a public policy compromise.

As this alcohol is sold without the often heavy taxes on alcohol suitable for consumption, it is a cheaper solution for most uses that do not involve drinking.

If pure ethanol were made cheaply available for fuel, solvents, or medicinal purposes, it would likely be enjoyed as a drink by many people without payment of the Australian alcoholic beverage taxes, called an excise tax.[3]

What are the benefits of denatured alcohol?

Denatured alcohol is widely known for its anti-bacterial properties.

This makes it an ideal cleaning agent. It can be used on a variety of hard surfaces, such as wood, plastic, and glass. During the latest pandemic alcohol was used for cleaning surfaces.

Its capacity as a solvent also enables it to dissolve grease and stains, as well as remove light marks from some surfaces.

Cleaning windows.

My grandmother swore by using metho and newspaper to clean windows, they were sparkling clean. You can use this alcohol in your house or car windows too.

Drawbacks of denatured alcohol

Despite its poisonous content, denatured alcohol is sometimes mistakenly used as a solvent in food-grade processes. This may result in a nasty taste in the final product. This can also result in blindness or death if it contains methanol.

For instance, during the Prohibition in the United States, federal law required methanol in domestically manufactured industrial alcohols. From 25–27 December 1926, which was roughly at the midpoint of the “Noble Experiment” of nationwide alcohol prohibition, 31 people in New York City alone died of methanol poisoning.[4] 

To help prevent this, denatonium is often added to give the substance an extremely bitter flavour.

Substances such as pyridine are also added to give the mixture an unpleasant odour, and agents such as syrup of ipecac may also be included to induce vomiting.

If you are using this for cleaning surfaces, be careful as sometimes the alcohol can dissolve plastics, particularly window film.


Denatured alcohol has many uses, whether you are cleaning windows or using it as a refrigerant in a cooling system. However, it is not for drinking or adding to food products, like CBD tinctures.

Some Facts

The main additive usually is 10% methanol (methyl alcohol), hence the name methylated spirits.