Difference Between Ethanol and Methanol

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Methanol and ethanol are alcohol variants. Methanol contains only one carbon and ethanol contains two carbon in each molecule. Both substances can be used as energy sources, but methanol primarily serves as a research subject, and its use as a motor fuel has been mostly phased out in the United States. The position of ethanol is greater, although its future as an automotive fuel is still unclear. Both of them may sound similar, look similar and even both are alcohol but that where its similarity ends. There are some very significant differences and they have different characteristics, applications, and effects. Mistaking the two may have very negative effects, potentially.

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Made up of a methyl group attached with a hydroxy also known as methyl alcohol or wood alcohol. It's milder, sweeter than ethanol with a distinctive odour. It is colourless and volatile. Consumption of methanol is toxic and can cause blindness. It is widely used in the manufacture of acetic acid and formaldehyde.


It is a colourless liquid and a principal ingredient in alcoholic beverages like wine, beer, etc. Ethanol is also known as ethyl alcohol. Ethanol is also an ingredient in a range of products, from personal care and beauty products to paints and varnishes to fuel, as it can readily dissolve in water and other organic compounds. Currently, the most widespread use of ethanol is as a gasoline additive. Manufacturing of solvents, plastics, medications, perfumes, antibacterial gels, and cosmetics are other industrial applications.

Properties of Ethanol and Methanol

The two chemicals have very similar characteristics. Ethanol is a clear, colourless, flammable, and explosive liquid solvent that has a distinctive odour that creates smokeless blue flames that do not always appear under natural light and evaporate when they are burning in an open container. Likely, methanol, with a distinctive smell similar to that of ethanol, is volatile, colourless, flammable liquid. The distinction between methanol and ethanol is that the flame is light white and not light blue when methanol is burnt. 



  • It is used in the production of methylamines and methylamines.

  • Used as an additive to reduce the freezing point of liquids. 

  • Widely used in the production of acetic acid and formaldehyde. 


  • Used as an antiseptic and as a disinfectant.

  • Widely used as a solvent due to its ability to dissolve both polar and nonpolar compounds. 

  • Commonly used in beauty and cosmetic products. 


Solved Examples

1. How Methanol and Ethanol can be distinguished? 

Ans: Iodoform test is used to distinguish between the Methanol and Ethanol. As ethanol is warmed with iodine in the presence of NaOH, it produces a yellow-coloured precipitate but methanol does not react positively to the Iodoform test. 

2. Why is Methanol Dangerous?

Ans: It is extremely poisonous and flammable. It causes permanent blindness through optic nerve damage, central nervous system poisoning, coma, and likely death if ingested directly more than 10g in quantity. Such threats are often observed while vapours of methanol are inhaled.

3. Is Ethanol Dangerous?

Ans: While ethanol is used extensively, it is a hazardous chemical. It is extremely flammable and as such, it has precise flashpoints that are important to consider when using it. Although ethanol is consumed when alcoholic drinks are taken, the ingestion of pure ethanol alone can cause coma and death.

4. Does Fructose Cause Diabetes?

Ans: Fructose does not increase blood glucose and does not require insulin, and it can also be handled better by people with diabetes than other sugars. In reality, studies indicate that in individuals with diabetes, small amounts of oral fructose may improve glycemic control.

Fun Facts

  • Methanol-powered vehicles can decrease emissions of greenhouse gas from around 25% and 35%, and emissions are also less reactive.

  • The cleanest and most affordable octane source on the market today is ethanol, which displaces toxic aromatic products such as benzene and toluene.

  • Producing 20 barrels of ethanol requires just 1 barrel of crude oil.

  • Ethanol is used in paints as preservatives because it is an effective solvent and also used in cleansing products for preventing the breach of organisms.

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

1. What are the Solvent Properties of Ethanol?

Due to its low melting point, ethanol is used as an anti-freezing solution. Its density is about 20 percent less than that of water at 789 g/l. Used in perfumes, paints, and tinctures, it is readily soluble in water and is itself a strong solvent. Alcoholic beverages have a wide range of flavours, as, during brewing, different flavour compounds are dissolved. A solution of 70-85% ethanol is widely used as a disinfectant; by denaturing its proteins and dissolving its lipids, it destroys organisms: it is effective against most microbes, fungi, and certain viruses, but is ineffective against bacterial spores. This disinfectant property of ethanol is the reason why it is possible to preserve alcoholic drinks for a long time. 

2. Is Methanol Acidic or Basic?

Methanol is both acidic and basic. Proton donors are acid in the Bronsted-Lowry approach, and proton acceptors are bases. Methanol is a donor of protons and it donates O-H protons to strong bases such as sodium hydride relatively easily. As oxygen absorbs protons from strong acids such as sulfuric acid, methanol is also a proton acceptor. Electron-pair acceptors are acids, donors are bases, according to Lewis' acid-base principle. Methanol also satisfies this definition. Proton is an electron pair acceptor on the O-H group, and as a result, methanol is an acid, oxygen is an electron donor with two unpaired electrons, so methanol is a base. This type of compound is regarded as both acid and base also called amphoteric. 

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