Non-toxic substitute for denatured alcohol?

Dear fellow Orchidians, Does anyone have any recommendations for a
substitute fuel for alcohol lamps? I am looking for something that is
non-toxic. I have spoken with a chemist and she has recommended
reagent alcohol. Unfortunately, it costs $54.00 per quart- yikes!
This is awfully pricey. If any of you know of a less expensive
alternative I would really appreciate your input. Thank you in
advance. Also, I would like to caution those of you using denatured
alcohol. I know that there are some people who are more sensitive to
chemicals than others. However, over time, you can become incredibly
sensitive to something that you were once ok with. If you are
experiencing nausea, severe headaches, memory loss and seriously
impaired vision ( I have rcovered full vision now) You may also have
problems with this chemical. It took ten months of expensive visits
to the doctors to then not get any answers. It became so severe that
it was finally obvious when I sat down to work plus I had some help
illnesses and toxicity problems. I wish you all happy, healthy,
creative hours in the studio and would very much appreciate your
ideas on safe alternatives to denatured alcohol. Victoria

How about grain alcohol? I don’t know whether it’s available where
you are, but here in Alaska you can buy it in liquor stores by the
name “Everclear”

You might try “Everclear” it is sold in liquor stores and is "pure"
grain alcohol, it is 200 proof that is to say as close to 100%
alcohol as you can get. It is “toxic” only if you chose to drink too
much. Rather use it as lamp fuel. It should cost about $20.00 or so
per wine gallon. Mike

try pure grain alcohol. Everclear is at your local liquor store. It
is probably the wood alcohol in denatured that you are allergic to. It
is what is added to grain alchol so you won’t buy it cheap at the drug
store and drink it without paying liquor tax. Uncle Sam must have his
slice of the pie. Frank_

Propane or natural gas bunson burner works in place of the alcohol

John Dach

MidLife Crisis Enterprises
C.T. Designs
Cynthias sculptures are at:
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A small bronze foundry, not web site yet!!

If you don’t succeed the first time, then sky diving is not for you.
The early bird may get the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.

Victoria -

Alcohol is “denatured” to render it unfit for human consumption so
that it can be sold without having “liqour taxes” imposed on it. It
seems to me that any high proof beverage alcohol would serve as fuel
to a lamp - much less than $54.00 a quart! Experiment a bit - I’m
sure 180 proof rum or whatever would burn very well - possibly even
an inexpensive 120 proof vodka would do the trick. Or you might see
if you have the same bad reaction to rubbing alcohol, isopropyl
alcohol, and/or wood alcohol - all acceptable alternatives to feed
your lamp. Good luck

Does anyone have any recommendations for a substitute fuel for
alcohol lamps? I am looking for something that is non-toxic. I have
spoken with a chemist and she has recommended reagent alcohol.
Unfortunately, it costs $54.00 per quart- yikes! 

You might try a liquor store. It will still be pricey, because of the
tax, but not that much.

However, you should know that “denatured alcohol” is not a single
formula. There are several approved ways to denature alcohol. If you
are sensitive to one denaturing agent, you might not be to others.
I’m surprised your homeopath didn’t tell you that. You do know, of
course, that even pure reagent grade ethanol is toxic. It’s a matter
of dosage.

You could also try pure methanol (wood alcohol), which is easily


Grain alcohol … I know of only one type of 100% pure grain
alcohol that has absolutely NO Petrol-chemicals in it whatsoever. It
is known as Denatured Agricultural Alcohol. It comes from a
manufacturer in Germany.I believe Mnfgs. name is “LIVOS” It is made
from 100% Beets & or Potatoes. The last time I phoned their
distributor the # was 508- 477-7955 You may also try “The Natural
Choice” 1 800 621-2591 Santa Fe New Mexico. Good Luck RnL

Victoria, There is a brand of vodka called “Everclear” which is nearly
pure ethanol. It is definitely potent enough to use as fuel, it
contains no toxic additives, and it has a warning on the label that it
is extremely flammable. Reagent grade ethanol contains absolutely no
water - whereas Everclear does contain just a little. It won’t make
any difference to its value as fuel. Everclear is a lot cheaper than
chemically pure ethanol. (Note that not just any brand of vodka will
work. Most of them contain far too much water to work as fuel.
Everclear, on the other hand, contains far too little water to be used
as a beverage. If you have any intention of drinking some, cut it at
least 1 to 1 with distilled water, lest you burn big nasty holes in
your esophagus.) :slight_smile: -Peter-

Hi Victori,

If you use Everclear you will have to pay the ‘whiskey’ tax both
state and federal. You may wish to look into either methyl or is it
ethyl alcohol. John, which is it? There is also a grain alcohol
product like Everclear that has an added ingredient that makes it
undrinkable and therefore not covered by the ‘whiskey’ tax. A
chemical supply house can help you. Another alternative to an
alcohol lamp is to get a butane fueled bunsen burner, in a pinch I
have even taken a Bernz-o-matic torch and unscrewed the torch tip off
of the torch and slipped that gum rubber tubing over the ‘pipe’
above the valve and hooked the other end to a bunsen burner. You then
barely open the valve and light your torch and voila’, an operational
bunsen burner. It saved my a… bacon several times.


Skip Meister
Orchid Jewelry Listserve Member
N.R.A. Endowment
"No man’s life, liberty or fortune is safe…while our legislature is in session."
Benjamin Franklin

My day job is as an analytical chemist who has done toxicology
research and currently works in the QA department for a firm which
manufacturers high-purity solvents.

What you have is an acquired sensitivity, to either the alcohol fumes
or whatever they used to denature the alcohol with. An acquired
sensitivity is something the body does, when it kind of reaches an
overload condition of something. The overload level and an overload
of what are personal, so that doesn’t help much.

There are half a dozen diferent thing that various manufacturers use
to denature ethyl alcohol. It is legally your right to request
something called a material safety data sheet (MSDS) from the
manufacturer. This should list all of the components, and this may
give you a clue what you are actually allergic to. You can then try
different manufacturers until you found one that used something
different, and try it.

Everclear is a possibility. It is 95% ethyl alcohol, with the other
5% being water. This will burn a little cooler, with a
slightlyyellow flame. Of course, you have to get it from a liquor
store that handles hard alcohol. And it is banned in Ohio (some
college kids did something stupid–and died from alcohol poisoning).

A cheap alternative might be methanol, or wood alcohol. It is
extremely toxic to drink (or to breathe a LOT of the vapor, not
likely in your situation), but that doesn’t seem to be your problem.
It almost certainly will not contain the denaturing substance (unless
the use methanol, a less common denaturant) and the heat generated
will be similar.

The amount of heat generated is an important consideration. Most
hydrocarbon solvents (like lamp oil) will be too hot to give
equivalent heat. Methanol, ethanol, and isopropanol (rubbing
alcohol) burn cooler than most other things that burn.

I need to weasel here a moment. I can’t guarantee that the above
will be safe for you. While reasonable precautions should make the
activity relatively safe, there are no guarantees.

How is your ventillation? From your symptoms, you could also be
reacting to low-levels of carbon monoxide. If the flame is any color
other than an almost invisible blue, you are experiencing incomplete
combustion, which can generate carbon monoxide.

At a guess, from the fact that you are using an alcohol lamp, I
suspect you may be working with wax or something similar. If this is
the case, you don’t really need a flame, just heat. A variable heat
heat gun with a focus cone may give you what you need. You will
probably have to play with settings, but it should work.

Re the Methanol suggestion – Methanol (“Wood alcohol”) is also
extremely poisonous – It can be absorbed through the skin - you don’t
have to drink it --, and causes blindness. margaret

How about the cheap store brand 100 proof vodka. It’s 50% alcohol by
volume, and burns nicely, and it’s as non-toxic as a metabolic poison
gets. If you live in a state that sells the higher proof grain
alcohols (everclear), those would be even better.

Ron Charlotte -- Gainesville, FL OR @Ron_Charlotte


Any “Denatured” alcohol product is poisonous, no matter if it started
out as grain alcohol (the drinking kind) or wood alcohol or any other

The word, denatured says it all, something was done to a natural
product to change it’s natural characteristics. In this case, adding a
poison to a product normally safe for human consumption. In many
cases, denatured alcohol also has a colorant added to it to indicate
that it’s not the same as that for human consumption.

The main reason for ‘denaturing’ alcohol is the governments desire to
extract their tax from the consumer. The cost of producing a gallon of
grain alcohol is quite low. It’s only the taxes imposed by governments
that make it costly.


Reagent grade ethanol contains absolutely no water - whereas
Everclear does contain just a little.  It won't make any difference
to its value as fuel. 

Especially since (if I remember correctly) the reagent grade is only
100% until you open the bottle. It fairly quickly absorbs moisture
from the air until it gets to about 95%, the eutectic mixture with


Re the Methanol suggestion – Methanol (“Wood alcohol”) is also
extremely poisonous – It can be absorbed through the skin - you don’t
have to drink it --, and causes blindness.

Exactly the same can be said about ethanol, which is also extremely
poisonous - it just gets into your blood stream more slowly. There’s
no need to panic in either case - don’t take a bath in it, don’t
inhale concentrated fumes, but also don’t stay awake nights worrying
about it.

Methanol is perfectly safe for the suggested use.


You may wish to look into either methyl or is it
ethyl alcohol.  John, which is it? 

You rang, M’lord? And G’day; Methyl alcohol is also methanol and
is very poisonous. They put it in ‘methylated spirits’ in NZ and
England to stop people drinking it - but of course it doesn’t; (hence
the term ‘metho’s’) it merely sends them blind and mad.

Ethyl Alcohol is also ethanol. This is often made by soaking grain
(barley, wheat, corn etc) in water, allowing it to just sprout which
produces sugars and enzymes, dissolving out the sugars and fermenting
them with yeasts, then distilling off the ethanol which is of course
a waste product of the yeast growing and multiplying. Hence the term
’grain spirit’. Almost all countries in the world place a tax on
grain spirit beverages including vodka, which is pure ethanol fairly
heavily diluted with water. Generally a special license is required to
buy ethanol; industrial grade 90-96% or ‘absolute’ 98%, and only
laboratories and certain industries can obtain such a license; a
privilege which is jealously guarded. (ordinary folk like you, me,
and the bootleggers have to make their own cheap untaxed ethanol.) In
Australia the Colonial Sugar Refining Company make vast quantities of
the stuff, some in the form of rum. Ethanol is also make from
natural mineral oil by speciality petroleum product refiners. Don’t
forget that ethanol is also poisonous (toxic) - hence ‘drying out’ is
called detoxification. Methanol is also made from petroleum products -
in vast amounts as it is used as a starting material for a large
number of chemicals. Like I said, it is exceedingly poisonous. It
can also be produced in certain fermentation reactions. ‘Bath tub

Then there are n.propyl, iso-propyl, (propanols) iso and n. and
tertiary butyl (butanols) alcohols; (And others) all of which are used
commercially in various but large amounts. Most of which are
poisonous in varying degrees and amounts.

There are a very large number of other alcohols, produced naturally
by certain plants, but we won’t bother with those either.

So, what should one use in a spirit lamp? I suggest one of the
commercially available alcohols sold in paint stores and hardware
shops. Just don’t breathe the vapours and don’t drink the stuff. I
have used spirit lamps containing ‘methylated spirit’ most of my life
and have drunk alcohols since I was 20 (I prefer rum, with lemon or
cloves please, depending on the ambient temperature) So there you are,
more than you ever wanted to know about alcohols - you can blame Skip
Meister for all this. Cheers.

        /\      John Burgess
       / /
      / /    
     / /__|\
    (_______)   It's spring in Mapua Nelson NZ And rains mostly

at night

Victoria, You might try Bacardi 151. It is even safe to take orally.
Although if taken in excess quantities it will give you all the
symptoms you describe, nausea, headache,memory loss, and lack of
judgement. Have fun :wink: