Denatured Alcohol in the Shop
by Damien Andrews
Denatured alcohol is alcohol that has been altered so as to be undrinkable. There can be no specific chemical composition listed herein for denatured alcohol because the manners in which it is altered varies from manufacturer to manufacturer.
If you're a sailor, then you are most likely quite familiar with using denatured alcohol. It is the fuel used to power stoves and heaters on many boats. Denatured alcohol burns clean, creates no smoke, and leaves no odor.
Woodworkers use denatured alcohol to thin out shellac. There are some other things that call for or allow thinning with denatured alcohol, but they will not be listed here to prevent the possibility of accidental use of the product. If your explicit product, such as some epoxies, specifies thinning with denatured alcohol, then it's safe and should be used.
Denatured alcohol is a fantastic cleaner for glass and many metals. Most often, a mix of white vinegar and water will get glass as clean as you could want, but if you need to go a little further, or if you are gluing glass together, then consider using denatured alcohol to ensure that all grease and oil are completely removed.
Denatured alcohol is not the solvent that acetone is, though some denatured alcohol formulae contain acetone. Unlike acetone, denatured alcohol is not as offensively odiferous, and therefore is a more pleasant product to use in many applications.
Denatured alcohol has its place in the shop, to be sure. It should be used as a primary degreaser and oil remover for items which require such treatments – instead of the smellier, more offensive acetone. Denatured alcohol effectively dissolves and removes all oils and greases – thus making it ideal for use when bonding things together. Denatured alcohol is highly flammable, and all appropriate cautions should be taken.
Denatured alcohol, as it evaporates quite rapidly, has a short working time. And just as it removes oil from objects, it removes all the oil from skin that it makes contact with, so take appropriate cautions.
If you use denatured alcohol to prepare concrete for permanent bonding, be sure to use a small brush to ensure that you get the alcohol into (and out of) the pores of the concrete. Just pour some denatured alcohol onto the concrete to be degreased, brush it, and wipe it up with a rag or disposable paper towel. If you use a rag, hang the rag afterwards to allow the denatured alcohol to completely evaporate – for safety reasons.
Always use denatured alcohol in a well ventilated area. Never use denatured alcohol in any heating or cooking device which does not specifically call for it. Follow all safety precautions listed on the label of the denatured alcohol you purchase. If kept tightly sealed, denatured alcohol will last indefinitely, so a 1-quart can is customarily adequate for the average do-it-yourselfer's shop.