Is Denatured Alcohol Eco-Friendly?

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When you’re looking for an alternative to most commercial cleaning supplies, it’s important not to overlook one of the cheapest, most readily-available cleaning supplies out there:


Along with vinegar, which is the second cheapest, most readily-available cleaning supply (Can you guess the first? It’s water!), alcohol can be used to clean tons of things around your home, saving you money and keeping other, more harmful chemical cleaners out.

But of course, that only works if the alcohol that you’re using really is more eco-friendly than the commercial cleaner that you’re replacing.

The alcohol that’s in your high-proof vodka is for sure more eco-friendly than a commercial cleaner. You can mix it with water to replace your favorite store-bought disinfectant spray (bonus points for adding tea tree oil!). The same mixture works better than Febreze to eliminate many gross odors, and if you’re a gardener, you can make a sage and vodka tincture that will replace your store-bought antiseptic for cuts and scrapes.

But… that alcohol is highly drinkable, and maybe you don’t need something highly drinkable in your life. If that’s the case, you may want to turn to denatured alcohol, also known as methylated spirits. Denatured alcohol is the same ethanol, modified with additional chemicals to make it unappealing, often even actually vomit-inducing, to drink. It’s often dyed, as well, as a visual warning not to drink it.

If you’re a savvy reader, that previous paragraph has just clued you into the big problem with denatured alcohol: it’s modified with additional chemicals.

What chemicals? Well… it depends. Some of the chemicals used to denature alcohol are non-toxic; there is cosmetic-grade denatured alcohol. But some of the chemicals that could be used to denature alcohol are highly toxic. If petroleum derivatives are used, for instance, well, then you’ve just let more petroleum derivatives into your life. And another common additive, methanol, is highly toxic to your body. Methanol, which you can make from hydrogen, carbon monoxide, and carbon dioxide, is technically organic, but your body metabolizes it into formaldehyde, which will kill you. You don’t want to drink that, which is why it makes a great additive for denatured alcohol, but you also don’t want it on your face, or on the surfaces that you touch, or sprayed into the air that you breathe.

If you are positive about the provenance of your denatured alcohol and are confident that it contains no harmful additives, then it’s a fine, eco-friendly substitute for commercial cleaners. But if you don’t worry that your alcohol intended for household use will be improperly consumed, then your very best alternatives are cheap vodka for cleaning and organic vodka for skin care recipes.

Curious about exactly what you can do with alcohol, denatured or otherwise? Check out these crafty uses!

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1. Disinfecting Wipes If you want your wipes to be disposable, you can use paper towels with this solution. The most eco-friendly method, however, uses small washcloths–use, wash, and reuse!

2. Dye Wood I am VERY intrigued by the step in this tutorial that uses pigment mixed with alcohol to dye wood. Some of you long-term readers might remember my series of tutorials on dyeing wood that I wrote a few years ago, and I am STILL getting questions about it!

3. Gel Air Freshener Here’s an easy way to get the look and feel of a gel air freshener without any artificial scents. Instead, this recipe uses gelatin, vodka, and essential oils.

4. Homemade Alcohol Ink I used high-proof isopropyl for this project, but you could substitute any of the other alcohols mentioned in this post.

5. Homemade Cleaner This tute shows you how to make an all-purpose cleaner, glass cleaner, an odor eliminator, and a grease-cutting solution, all from food-grade vodka!

6. Lemon-Infused Cleaner Steeping the peels from organic lemons in vodka is an easy–and cheap!–way to infuse this disinfectant cleaner with lemon oil.

7. Painting With Sharpies And Alcohol The author of this tutorial mentions that she did this project with young teens. That is one circumstance in which I’d want to make sure, as she did, that I had an undrinkable alcohol at hand–denatured alcohol for the win!

8. Reed Diffuser Have you seen this little doohickey in other people’s bathrooms and wanted your own? It’s super easy to DIY!

9. Scented Linen Spray This linen spray uses essential oils for the scent, so it also has aromatherapy benefits.

Do you have a favorite crafty use for alcohol? Let me know in the Comments below!

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Written by Julie Finn

I'm a writer, crafter, Zombie Preparedness Planner, and homeschooling momma of two kids who will hopefully someday transition into using their genius for good, not the evil machinations and mess-making in which they currently indulge. I'm interested in recycling and nature crafts, food security, STEM education, and the DIY lifestyle, however it's manifested--making myself some underwear out of T-shirts? Done it. Teaching myself guitar? Doing it right now.

Visit my blog Craft Knife for a peek at our very weird handmade homeschool life, and my etsy shop Pumpkin+Bear for a truly odd number of rainbow-themed beeswax pretties.

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