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Methylated Spirits vs. Isopropyl Alcohol — What's the Difference?

Edited by Tayyaba Rehman — By Maham Liaqat — Published on February 23, 2024
Methylated spirits, a form of denatured alcohol, contains additives to make it poisonous and unpalatable, primarily used as a solvent and cleaner. While Isopropyl alcohol is more purified form of alcohol used in disinfecting, cleaning, and personal care.
Methylated Spirits vs. Isopropyl Alcohol — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Methylated Spirits and Isopropyl Alcohol


Key Differences

Methylated Spirits and Isopropyl Alcohol are both alcohol-based substances used for cleaning and sanitization, but they differ significantly in composition, uses, and safety.
Methylated Spirits, also known as denatured alcohol, is ethanol that has been mixed with methanol and other additives to deter recreational consumption. The methanol makes it toxic to ingest, inhale, or absorb through the skin. It is commonly used as a cleaning agent, solvent for paints, fuels for camping stoves, and in various industrial applications. The additives give methylated spirits a distinctive color and odor to ensure it is not mistaken for consumable alcohol.
Isopropyl Alcohol (IPA), or isopropanol, is a type of alcohol that is widely used in pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, and household products. At concentrations of 70% or higher, IPA is an effective antiseptic and disinfectant, used to clean wounds, sanitize surfaces, and manufacture hand sanitizers. It evaporates quickly, leaving little residue, and is safer for use on skin compared to methylated spirits. However, it can still be toxic if ingested in large quantities.
The key distinctions between the two lie in their intended use and safety for personal care. Methylated spirits should never be used on the skin or in any application where its toxic additives could pose a health risk. Isopropyl alcohol, while also requiring careful handling, is suitable for both medical and personal care applications due to its antiseptic properties.
Both methylated spirits and isopropyl alcohol serve important roles in cleaning and sanitization, while their chemical compositions and applications differ greatly, emphasizing the need for appropriate selection and use in various contexts.

Comparison Chart


Ethanol with methanol and other additives
Pure isopropanol


Cleaning, solvent, fuel, industrial applications
Disinfecting, personal care, pharmaceuticals


Toxic if ingested, inhaled, or absorbed
Toxic if ingested, safer for topical use

Antiseptic Properties

Not suitable for use on skin
Effective antiseptic and disinfectant


Quick, but leaves behind additives
Quick, leaves little residue


Common in hardware stores, industrial supply
Widely available in pharmacies, retail stores


Contains methanol, coloring, and bitterants
Typically pure, especially in medical-grade IPA

Compare with Definitions

Methylated Spirits

A denatured alcohol used as a solvent and cleaner.
Methylated spirits can remove ink stains from upholstery.

Isopropyl Alcohol

A purified alcohol used for disinfecting and cleaning.
Isopropyl alcohol wipes are used to sanitize smartphones.

Methylated Spirits

Contains additives to make it poisonous.
The methanol in methylated spirits is toxic if ingested.

Isopropyl Alcohol

Evaporates quickly, leaving little residue.
Isopropyl alcohol is used in electronics cleaning for its rapid evaporation.

Methylated Spirits

Not suitable for personal care or medical use.
Avoid using methylated spirits for wound cleaning due to toxicity.

Isopropyl Alcohol

Effective antiseptic for personal care.
A 70% IPA solution can disinfect cuts and scrapes.

Methylated Spirits

Used in industrial applications and as a fuel.
Methylated spirits are often used in marine stoves for cooking.

Isopropyl Alcohol

Widely available in pharmacies for medical use.
Pharmacies sell isopropyl alcohol for home and healthcare settings.

Common Curiosities

Can I use isopropyl alcohol to clean wounds?

Yes, but it should be diluted to around 70% concentration for effectiveness without excessive irritation.

Why might someone choose methylated spirits over isopropyl alcohol for cleaning?

Methylated spirits may be chosen for its effectiveness as a solvent in removing grease, paint, and other stubborn stains where toxicity is not a concern.

What's the environmental impact of these chemicals?

Both can be harmful to aquatic life and should be disposed of properly, not poured down drains.

Can methylated spirits be used as a hand sanitizer?

No, methylated spirits contain toxic additives and should not be used on skin.

Why are additives put into methylated spirits?

Additives make it toxic, deterring misuse as a beverage and preventing accidental ingestion.

Is there an antidote for methylated spirits poisoning?

Treatment often involves supportive care and may include fomepizole or ethanol for methanol poisoning, but immediate medical attention is required.

How does the cost compare between methylated spirits and isopropyl alcohol?

The cost can vary based on location and supplier, but methylated spirits are generally cheaper due to their industrial-grade production and bulk usage.

Can either methylated spirits or isopropyl alcohol be used to disinfect surfaces for food preparation?

Isopropyl alcohol can be used to disinfect food preparation surfaces if it is allowed to evaporate completely. Methylated spirits should not be used due to its toxic additives.

Is isopropyl alcohol safe for all surfaces?

While safe for many surfaces, it can damage certain plastics and finishes, so it's best to test on a small area first.

Is it safe to mix methylated spirits with other household cleaners?

No, mixing chemicals can create dangerous gases or other hazardous reactions. Always use cleaners separately and according to instructions.

How are methylated spirits and isopropyl alcohol stored?

Both should be stored in a cool, well-ventilated area away from heat sources and out of reach of children.

Can isopropyl alcohol remove paint?

It can remove some inks and dyes but is generally not strong enough to remove paint effectively compared to stronger solvents.

What precautions should be taken when using isopropyl alcohol or methylated spirits?

Use in a well-ventilated area, wear gloves to prevent skin contact, and ensure there are no ignition sources nearby due to their flammability.

Can isopropyl alcohol be used to treat fungal infections?

While isopropyl alcohol can kill some fungi on surfaces, it's not recommended for treating skin fungal infections without medical advice.

Are there any safe alternatives to methylated spirits for household cleaning?

For many household cleaning tasks, vinegar, baking soda, or commercially available non-toxic cleaners can be effective and safer alternatives.

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Maham Liaqat
Tayyaba Rehman is a distinguished writer, currently serving as a primary contributor to As a researcher in semantics and etymology, Tayyaba's passion for the complexity of languages and their distinctions has found a perfect home on the platform. Tayyaba delves into the intricacies of language, distinguishing between commonly confused words and phrases, thereby providing clarity for readers worldwide.

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