denatured alcohol vs isopropyl alcoholShare on Pinterest
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The type of alcohol found in alcoholic beverages is called ethyl alcohol or ethanol. Ethanol is produced naturally when yeast and other microbes ferment sugars found in plants.

Denatured alcohol is ethanol that has substances added to it that make it unfit for human consumption. You may see denatured alcohol listed in the ingredients of items like:

  • household cleaning products
  • fuels
  • industrial products
  • skincare products
  • hand sanitizers
  • disinfectants

Isopropyl alcohol is a chemically different type of alcohol, but it shares some similarities. Isopropyl and denatured alcohols are both commonly used as disinfectants and are dangerous for human consumption. The term rubbing alcohol can describe either type of alcohol when they’re used as medical disinfectants.

Let’s take a deeper look at the differences between denatured alcohol and isopropyl alcohol. We’ll also explain what you should do if you or somebody else consumes one of them.

Denatured alcohol and isopropyl alcohol have similar uses, but they differ chemically.

Denatured alcohol is ethyl alcohol with toxic or bad tasting additives that make it unsuitable for consumption. The chemical formula of ethyl is C2H6O and the formula for isopropyl alcohol is C3H8O.

The most common additive to denatured alcohol is 5 to 10 percent methanol. Methanol is highly toxic when consumed orally. Studies have reported deaths in people consuming as little as 0.5 ounces of 40-percent methanol.

Other substances that may be added to denatured alcohol include:

  • gasoline
  • isopropyl alcohol
  • benzene
  • pyridine
  • castor oil
  • acetone

Isopropyl alcohol is commonly used as a disinfectant in hand sanitizers and cleaning products in a 70-percent concentration. You may also find it on the label of cosmetics and aftershaves.

Like denatured alcohol, isopropyl alcohol isn’t safe for consumption. Ingestion is rarely fatal in adults, but it can make you very sick. Small children and babies are at the highest risk of severe side effects or death.

Isopropyl alcohol poisoning is the most common toxic alcohol ingestion reported to the United States poison control centers each year.

Denatured alcohol and isopropyl alcohol are both used in a wide variety of products. Here’s a look at some of their more common uses.


Both types of alcohol are commonly used in hand sanitizers, as medical disinfectants, and in household cleaners. They are the only two alcohols FDA-approved in alcohol-based hand sanitizers.


You may find ethyl alcohol or isopropyl alcohol on the ingredient list of fuels for small stoves. Ethyl alcohol sourced from biomass is used as an eco-friendly alternative to gasoline for automobiles.


Denatured alcohol is added to cosmetics to act as an:

  • antifoaming agent
  • astringent
  • solvent
  • antimicrobial agent

Similarly, isopropyl alcohol functions as an:

  • antifoaming agent
  • astringent
  • solvent
  • decreases product thickness

Industrial products

Denatured alcohol and isopropyl alcohol are used in a wide range of industrial products, such as:

  • adhesives and sealants
  • agriculture products
  • antifreeze
  • laundry and dishwashing products
  • fabric and textile products
  • plastic and rubber
UseDenatured alcoholIsopropyl alcohol
Hand sanitizer
Adhesives and sealants
Agricultural products
Antifreeze products
Laundry and dishwashing products
Antifoaming agent
Fabric and textile products
Plastic and rubber products

Denatured alcohol and isopropyl alcohol are both safe to apply to your skin, and they’re the two most common active ingredients found in hand sanitizers.

Alcohol can cause skin reactions in some people. It’s possible to develop contact irritant dermatitis, which can cause skin symptoms like:

The FDA recommends only giving hand sanitizer to kids under 6 with adult supervision, since they’re more prone to alcohol poisoning than adults if they ingest it.

Both denatured alcohol and isopropyl alcohol are highly flammable, so it’s important to keep them away from open fires or equipment that can spark.

Other ways to protect yourself include:

  • wear eye protection, and if you get alcohol in your eyes, flush with water for at least 15 minutes.
  • wear protective gloves and clothing to avoid unnecessary contact
  • keep it away from other chemicals, since they have the potential to react (for example, ethyl reacts violently with acetyl bromide and acetyl chloride)

Drinking even small amounts of alcohol not meant for human consumption can lead to toxicity or even death in relatively small amounts.

An older 2011 case study highlights a case of a 19-year-old who took her life by drinking denatured alcohol intended to be used as a stove fuel. According to Poison Control, the poisonous dose of 50 percent isopropyl alcohol for a 16-month-year-old baby is about two teaspoons.

Medical emergency

If you accidentally consume denatured or isopropyl alcohol, call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222 for expert guidance. Call 911 immediately if you or someone else experience:

  • seizures
  • trouble breathing
  • an inability to wake
  • other serious symptoms

You should also seek emergency medical attention when:

  • someone may be trying to intentionally self-harm
  • the affected person is pregnant
  • the affected person is younger than 6 months or older than 79 years.

Symptoms of denatured or isopropyl alcohol poisoning can include:

Denatured alcohol is ethyl alcohol with substances added to it to make it unfit for human consumption.

Isopropyl alcohol is another type of alcohol that shares many of the same uses. Both types of alcohol are unsafe for humans to consume orally, but they can usually be safely applied to the skin in the form of hand sanitizers and rubbing alcohol.