What is Wood Alcohol – Is it Safe to Drink?

what is wood alcohol

When you first hear the term wood alcohol, you might wonder if it is a kind of spirit that is made out of wood. But it’s not!

In simplest terms, wood alcohol is a clear, colorless liquid with a characteristic odor. It is also known as methyl alcohol or methanol (CH3OH).

The truth is that it is not a drinkable type of alcohol in spite of what its name may lead you to believe.

So, if not for drinking, what is wood alcohol used for?

Wood alcohol is simply one of the most common types of standard alcohol and is used in various chemical applications, none of which are safe for the human body.

Wood alcohol is a chemical that is made by the distillation of wood. Some other common names for wood alcohol are methyl alcohol or methanol.

Methanol is one of the simplest types of alcohol, meaning that wood alcohol is commonly used in everyday life. It is also commonly used in industries such as fuel and construction.

If you were to drink wood alcohol, you would experience immense damage to your health. In some cases, it can even be fatal if not treated right away.

Below, we’ll take a look at just what wood alcohol is used for. We will also discuss the symptoms of wood alcohol poisoning, as well as what medicines are used to treat it.

What is Wood Alcohol Used For?

Wood alcohol is a kind of alcohol that is used to make different industrial products like antifreeze, windshield wiper fluid, different kinds of fuel, paint thinner, and beyond.

In the fuel industry, wood alcohol is an important ingredient and is thought to be a contender for the replacement of gasoline in the future – thanks to its highly flammable nature.

It is also used to make pesticides and is responsible for acting as the main ingredient in many of them.

One of its main purposes is to create formaldehyde, which is a strong-smelling, colorless gas that is used for producing fiberboard, plywood, particleboard, and other types of wood products.

It has an important role in the construction industry and is commonly made into adhesives, such as glue for different materials like paper, wood, and fabric. Though it is useful, it is also poisonous.

It is for this reason that some furniture makers state that their wood products don’t contain any formaldehyde; many people do not want to bring this type of dangerous chemical into their homes.

what will happen if you drink wood alcohol

What Happens if You Drink Wood Alcohol?

Methanol is a common ingredient in windshield washer fluid and other solvents. It is also produced as a by-product of some industrial processes.

Methanol poisoning generally happens if the fluids containing the ingredient are ingested by mistake or intentionally.

Keep in mind that methanol or wood alcohol is not something you can drink, even though the name may make you think so.

Because wood alcohol is poisonous, it is unsafe for consumption.

Even just smelling it can be dangerous, as inhaling its fumes directly is not good.

Should someone accidentally take a drink of wood alcohol, the compounds will metabolize in their system to turn into formic acid that can harm the body.

The acidosis or too much acid in body fluids that can be caused by consuming wood alcohol can lead to symptoms of poisoning as severe as organ failure, which can ultimately be fatal.

Drinking wood alcohol can also cause issues such as:

  • Nerve damage
  • Circulation issues
  • Cardiac issues
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Unconsciousness
  • Vision issues such as blindness, tunnel vision, and blurred vision
  • Vomiting
  • Kidney failure
  • Liver damage

As you can see, drinking wood alcohol can be fatal.

It is common for people to brew wood alcohol in their backyards even though this is dangerous and, in some places, illegal to drink any unsafe home-brewed alcohol, especially wood alcohol.

What to Do if You Drink Wood Alcohol by Mistake?

While it’s not drinkable, if you consume wood alcohol, seek medical help immediately.

Even just ingesting a small amount of wood alcohol can have dangerous results. Even if you experience no obvious signs of poisoning, medical attention is crucial.

The liver is the first to process the ethanol, which can slow down and inhibit methanol’s reaction, causing a delay in symptoms.

Treatments for wood alcohol poisoning often include:

  • Sodium bicarbonate
  • Fomepizole
  • Dialysis
  • Thiamine
  • Folate

Err on the side of caution and use wood alcohol only for its intended purposes.


Is methanol found in foods?

Fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as their juices, contain methanol naturally.

It can be released by digestion of polysaccharides like pectin containing methyl esters of fatty acids or methoxy groups, among other things.

How much methanol is toxic if ingested?

Methanol can be deadly for humans as well as pets if ingested in as little as 30mL.

A baby can die from as few as 2 tablespoons (30 milliliters). An adult may die after consuming around 2 to 8 ounces (60 to 240 milliliters) of methanol.

For comparison, a standard bottle of windshield washer fluid contains 1L.

Drinking even a small amount of the fluid can result in serious health consequences, including blindness and death.

What happens if methanol is spilled on the skin?

Methanol is quickly absorbed through the skin and can cause poisoning that way as well. However, this is much less common than ingestion.

If you have been exposed to methanol, it is important to seek medical attention immediately. Symptoms usually occur within 12-24 hours but can take up to 48 hours to develop.

Final thoughts

In the end, wood alcohol is not safe to drink. It can cause blindness, brain damage, and death. If you think you have ingested wood alcohol, seek medical attention immediately.

However, if you desire to use it as a household product, wood alcohol is a versatile and effective solvent. It can be used as a cleaner, degreaser, or even an antifreeze.

So, while wood alcohol may have a reputation as being dangerous, it can be useful if used correctly. Just be sure to handle it with care and keep it away from your mouth!

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