Methylated spirit

From Academic Kids

Methylated spirit (or Meths) is ethanol which has been dyed and rendered undrinkable, and is used for purposes such as fuel for spirit burners or as a solvent. It is a type of denatured alcohol.

There is no duty on methylated spirit in most countries making it considerably cheaper than pure ethanol. Consequently its composition is tightly defined by government regulations which vary between countries. Different additives are used to make it both unpalatable and poisonous in such a way that is hard to rectify through distillation or other simple processes (methanol is common for this use in part because it has a boiling point close to that of ethanol, and separating it by distillation is more expensive than the taxes on beverage alcohol). It is also often dyed blue or purple with an aniline dye, although in Australia and New Zealand fluorescein is used instead.

Traditionally the main additive was 10% methanol, which gave rise to its name, but this is not always the case now.

The Irish specification is typical. The following are added to ethanol to make it into methylated spirit.

The naphtha and pyridine may be replaced with 10% methanol.

The tax-exempt status for denatured alcohol dates from the mid 19th century, for instance the United Kingdom introduced legislation in 1855 to permit ethanol containing 10% wood-naphtha to be exempt.

Despite its poisonous nature, methylated spirit (or "meths") is sometimes drunk, alone or mixed with other substances, by alcoholics who have become destitute. As such, there is an argument that the methanol or other poisonous component should be removed. Although the methanol or other poisonous component is designed to prevent drinking, but does not stop at least some people drinking it (some few of whom die or become blind), that he addition of methanol is futile. It is also common to add a vomiting agent, which serves a similar purpose without the fatal side-effects. Likewise, denatonium adds a bitter taste but will not kill.

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