Instructables

How do i distill meths so its safe to drink?

My sister thinks that she can distil meths by straining it through bread and honestly i don't think it will work, so i want a more safe method. Please help.


I'm so sorry for wasting all your time but i just found out that meths in nz has had ALL the methanol removed! :-)
Thankyou to all of your for your help though.

simbad9 months ago

or you can grab a bucket, fill it with orange juice, weetbix, and a spoon of vegemite, mash it up, sit it outside for a day in the warmth, then strain through your shirt into another bucket. enjoy :P

Edaemus6 years ago
Hey people, I just read somewhere that the methylated spirits in New Zealand doesn't actually have methanol in it! And it has to be true, because it's on the internet :P Though it's still got all those tasty things added to it, so I personally wouldn't drink it. Best to stick to your own brewing concoctions, you can make your own beers and liquor out of anything. Just watch out for the carbon dioxide emissions! :D
joelkemu (author)  Edaemus6 years ago
Yo thanks for mentioning that, it prompted me to check it out on some of our official healthcare sites and you were right!!! So thanks heaps.
Rishnai6 years ago
Who on this green earth gave her that idea?! Really, I'd like to know so that someone can go exact some justice for endangering gullible peoples' lives. really, you want a drinkable alcohol, go get some. Or make like them thar hillfolk and distill your own. From something that's NOT POISON. Take meths, out over heat, let completely evaporate. Now you have no meths, or anything else, that you could even drink. (after some googling) ah, she has heard of the infamous Sterno Cocktail. The bread thing is just a tradition used to make people feel better about playing a chemical Russian Roullete. What she forgot to mention is that the actual trick is to dilute the PURE POISON with enough water that hopefully, you won't die. See, Sterno has some ethanol, and people bet their lives that they'll be able to get enough ethanol to feel a buzz before the methanol slowly and painfully kills them. If your dear beloved sister is planning on using methylated spirits, which is just pure methanol, and you don't stop her, you're going to be ordering a chunk of rock with the words "dear, beloved sister" and her name carved on it. There is no way to make meths non-poisonous, and no matter how much bread and water is involved, if someone drinks enough of it, they will die. If they don't drink enough, they get to live, blinded, with organ damage.
Apparently the terms change place to place, meths as in methylated spirits are just methylated spirits here but in certain places they have some ethanol as well, either way suicide is the best description of doing so...
Umm, Rishnai, psst. "The bread thing is just a tradition..." "...methylated spirits, which is just pure methanol..." The Sterno Cocktail has been made for a long time, if it was absolutely bad I'd think they'd have reformulated or banned Sterno by now. The bread thing is pretty old and worldwide and related to methylated spirits, which BTW are not pure methanol, in both the US and UK they're regulated and 90% or so ethanol, which is also close to what Sterno is as it's basically just methylated spirits, gelling agent, and dye.

And while bread and water might not do much for methanol poisoning, ethanol does. If someone drinks too much "meths" a treatment is loading them up on regular booze, it's not an automatic death sentence.

I've found Googling works best if I put "wikipedia" on the end when searching for something specific. ;-)
I don't know about sterno, but the governments do have regulations on required additives to denatured products, and they may include some of or all of the following....

Sucrose octaacetate To make it taste yummy

Denatonium_benzoate or Bittrex another yummy product

Pyridine To make it smell yummy

Syrup of ipecac So the hospital doesn't have much to pump when you arrive

And other things like Dye's, colorants, what ever solvent will blend with it that was cheap that day at the refinery, and this can be ketones, even av gas so there might even be Glycols, even some pour point depressants....
Fair enough, but personally, I'd rather risk a Minor in Possession/Underage Consumption charge than risk poisoning. As for reformulating Sterno, even though some denatured spirits have been reformulated methanol-free due to poisoning deaths, the fact that it says right on the can that it's a bad idea to drink it still seems to have protected the Sterno fuel recipe from such changes. And yes, the treatment for methanol poisoning is ethanol, but if you're drinking meths, like you pointed out in your other comment, you're likely too young or can't afford high-proof booze, which you would need on hand in event of accidental meths poisoning.
...the fact that it says right on the can that it's a bad idea to drink it still seems to have protected the Sterno fuel recipe from such changes.
Sterno is so old it likely predates a legal requirement to have that labeling. It was probably quite popular during Prohibition.

...I'd rather risk a Minor in Possession/Underage Consumption charge than risk poisoning.
And I'd rather I still had the first option. :-) One thing I've learned, stupid people will do stupid things no matter how you try to stop them. Sometimes the best you can do is minimize the damage done to everyone but themselves.
> Sometimes the best you can do is minimize the damage done to everyone but themselves. . Yep
on wikipedia, that is listed as a useless method, here's a good way, have someone drink a lot of it, then bottle their piss, the body will have cleaned out some of it, and it will be safer to drink, then dispose of the body... lol, DON'T TRY THIS
forgesmith6 years ago
I've seen the comment here that they should just go buy cheap booze. joelkemu just signed up, profile says he's only eighteen, this is his only topic. Seems likely neither he nor his sister may be old enough to buy booze, nor have the money. Looks like he came here just for this, a plea for help of the only kind he can think of right now for his sister. We should treat it as such.

From Wikipedia:
Despite its poisonous nature, denatured alcohol is sometimes consumed by the desperate or ignorant, which can result in blindness or death.

It has also appeared to be a problem in some parts of South Africa, homeless people drink denatured alcohol, using pieces of bread as a filter for the bad taste. The use of the bread is nullified, as after using it as a filter, the bread is sometimes eaten. The amount of homeless drinking denatured alcohol in South Africa has led to a change in the concoction, removing methanol to make it less toxic. Several people in Sweden and Norway died in 2008 due to a company who had by mistake used methanol in the denaturated colored alcohol. They were probably used to drinking the denaturated alcohol.

The bread might take out at least some of the bad taste, but that's about it.

Now, back to the question. What's a safer method of getting the methanol out?

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 commonly used for this in part because it has a boiling point close to that of ethanol, and separating it by distillation is difficult, but not impossible as methanol and ethanol form a zeotropic mixture (the opposite of an azeotropic mixture).

Without some really specialized equipment, costing far more than the price difference between that stuff and real ethanol, can't be done by distillation.

Methanol is CH3OH, 32.4 grams per mole, melting point (freezes at) -97deg C, boils at 64.7deg C. Ethanol is CH3CH2OH, 46 g/mol, melting point -114.3deg C, boils at 78.4deg C.

If you had the equipment, and methanol was the only poisonous additive, you could freeze it. It's easier to hold a precise cold temperature than a hot as it's harder to remove heat than to add it. Chill to about -100, remove the solid (methanol ice), chill some more, see if there's more solid... The methanol content will be about 10% of the liquid volume, shouldn't be that much solid made. As you continue with getting lower and lower temps, if you suddenly get lots of solid and if it had went from having some solid then a period of no solid, you're likely freezing ethanol. No guarantee that what's left is non-poisonous, but you've likely removed nearly all of the methanol so at least it is safer than what it was.

However, I doubt him or his sister has access to such cooling equipment, so there's another method to try.

Get a very long piece of pipe, I'd guess at least 3/4" inside diameter and 6 to 8 feet long. Put a small valve on one end. At the bare minimum, perhaps it'll work with a chunk of garden hose and a nozzle, the twist kind working better. Set pipe upright, nice and vertical, valve down, or just hang hose from open end. Fill with the denatured alcohol. Wait. Ethanol molecules are heavier than methanol so they will settle to the bottom. However there may be other additives that are heavier than ethanol so they will settle underneath the ethanol. Settling will take time, leave the pipe completely undisturbed for at least a week. Then, very carefully and slowly from the valve at the bottom, drain off 1/4 of the tube, discard. That would have stuff that's heavier than the ethanol and not in solution with the ethanol. Drain off the next 1/2 of the tube, save. The remaining 1/4 of the tube would contain methanol and things lighter than ethanol that are not in solution with it, discard.

The amount you saved, for the chemistry I remember, will be a more concentrated form of ethanol than what you started with, with less of the toxins. In No Way Whatsoever Is It To Be Considered SAFE, it's merely safer. If it worked at all, you've thrown away about 40% of the ethanol but that was the part most likely to have most of the methanol and other toxins. The 50% you've saved will still have stuff that was in solution in the ethanol, small amount of methanol, some other stuff. It's a crappy separation method, but... It's cheap, easy to do...

And seems likely to reduce the toxin load to where it's less lethal, less damaging, and keeps her around until something better can be done for her.


To those who'd give me grief over posting this, describe your position on needle exchanges for IV drug addicts. It sounds like this is happening right now or will happen, despite our warnings, thus this post is damage mitigation. If you're still emotional and feel someone stupid enough to drink that deserves what they get... Read the bumper sticker: I Brake For Dumb Animals.
joelkemu (author)  forgesmith6 years ago
TY for the reply. P.S I live in NZ where the legal drinking age is 18 (not that that stops anyone)
Glad to see you're still alive ! I know you didn't mean to start an international booze-intervention crisis, but it brought out a pretty good discussion. As you can tell from most of the posts, there are easier, safer, and cheaper ways to get your grog. I hope your sis understands that the cheap drink (even though interesting) isn't worth the risk.
Hey, You're on NZ. Why not go with Kava?!!
Well if you want to teach stupid people how to drink, perhaps you should teach them math first. Denatured alcohol $7 a quart 50% ethanol (per various MSDS's) plus expense and time of processing to make "safe" plus medical expenses, plus funeral costs. Listerine mouthwash $6 a quart 27% alcohol. Scope Mouth mouthwash $5 a quart 19% alcohol. Water sugar and bread yeast pennies a quart 5% alcohol + lots of B vitamins. Although the total cost per unit is higher initially for the mouthwash, the time and risk investment is smaller. BTW from various MSDS's denatured alcohol can contain additionally Isopropanol, Methyl isobutyl ketone (which gives Denat that lovely smell) and Methyl ethyl ketone. Yummy!
Well if you want to teach stupid people how to drink...
Not to drink, just to drink safer. I also recommend filters over unfiltered, and 100's have larger filters than regular.

Denatured alcohol $7 a quart 50% ethanol (per various MSDS's) plus expense and time of processing to make "safe" plus medical expenses, plus funeral costs.
Heh, you're getting ripped, I found quarts under $5 on a search, $50 for a 5 gallon can. Ah, I see what you mean on the percentages. Must be an American thing with methanol being cheaper, in the UK "denatured alcohol" is a tightly-defined item. Have to adjust the discard amounts for over here with a buying preference for, say, Klean Strip which is 50%, Crown has even less ethanol. The described method has practically no processing expense.

And the idea is to get the methanol amount down to where the body can handle it. The "toxic" part is primarily the breakdown product of formaldehyde, which the body will slowly metabolize and eliminate. Thus ethanol is a treatment for excessive methanol, the same mechanism breaks down both so you tie it up processing ethanol which allows the methanol to be broken down slowly enough the formaldehyde will not excessively build up. Thus (hopefully) the other expenses are avoided.

Water sugar and bread yeast... yields possibly dangerous amounts of bacteria getting bred. "Cold brewed and cold filtered..." using stainless steel closed vats and equipment that sees frequent steam cleaning.

Heh, my dad knows some good old stories about what the "alkys" would do for their fix. Ethanol used to be used as automotive antifreeze, people would wake up to find their radiators drained. Sometimes though, IIRC, methanol was used... And then there's drinking cologne, etc. When they got desperate they'd try anything. Of course, before us younger generations can laugh, take a look at what is being "huffed" nowadays. Model airplane glue never looked so tame.

Now, if you want some good cheap drinking stuff, you need a freezer, and apples. Applejack is a time-honored New England recipe that starts with apple cider (hard cider) and concentrates the alcohol by freeze distillation, made by not much more than leaving a barrel of cider outside in winter and skimming off the ice. You can do the same with a freezer. It can be frowned upon these days as the process also concentrates any methanol that's present, but, well, if the founders of this country not only survived it but liked it then it can't be all bad. And sure beats drinking denatured alcohol.
My cousin made a bunch of that when we were kids. It was pleasant but potent. We never drank enough for the methanol to be problematic.
> Get a very long piece of pipe ... . I can't find it on the 'Net, but I'm pretty sure that won't work. Miscibility? Brownian movement? I don't think you can separate even water and MeOH (or water and EtOH) that way. If it will work, it will probably take a lot longer than a week. . > To those who'd give me grief ... . Not me. You're not encouraging them - I think you made it quite clear that it can't be done without special/expensive equipment.
You're not encouraging them...
Not encouraging, no... Not anymore than handing out free condoms to middle-schoolers. "You really shouldn't do it, but if you do..."

It's a simple separation based on mass. Wikipedia referred to denatured alcohol as a mixture, which is a distinction in chemistry.

...a mixture is a substance made by combining two or more different materials without a chemical reaction occurring.

Mixtures can usually be separated by any mechanical means.

That both methanol and ethanol are completely miscible (admissible, sounds similar, possibly similar roots) in water isn't an issue since water should only be present in trace amounts, that they are completely miscible into each other is not insurmountable. It's still a mixture.

A centrifuge should work since the ethanol molecule is more massive that the methanol, under centrifugal force ethanol is "heavier" thus there would be separation. Centrifuges can separate uranium-235 from -238 once the uranium is converted to a gaseous molecule, the mass difference here is greater than three neutrons. Due to the mutual miscibility of methanol and ethanol you'd end up with a "zone" effect, a purely methanol/ethanol mix would yield virtually all methanol at the top (center) and virtually all ethanol at the bottom (outside) with a varying mix in between. Greater centrifugal force would yield what is practically two layers with a "no man's land" in between, the proposed approximately 90% ethanol mix would also sharpen the contrast over a 50/50 one.

Gravity is likewise such a force that could separate them. However, with a wide shallow container like a vat there'd be much molecular movement between what could be the two potential layers, more shallow means less separation until Brownian motion alone will (in theory) keep them from ever separating.

So, we go in reverse, long tube. There are limits, if i tried to use a tube of only 1/64" inside diameter it wouldn't matter if it went a half mile straight up, I wouldn't expect to see significant separation within a year, not enough molecular motion in not enough directions. About 3/4" dia by 6 ft looks right, enough cross-sectional area for meaningful separation with, important thing, enough length to get distinct "zones" to form. The 1/4-1/2-1/4 scheme selects a zone that the methanol should be practically out of while also rejecting any other additives that are heavier or lighter than ethanol. While it is possible that certain additives could be strongly enough bound to the ethanol to not separate, I would think that would interfere with the desired industrial properties of the ethanol thus they wouldn't be allowed. Additives whose molecules had the same approximate mass as ethanol would however remain, but methanol is the main concern.

Then the only remaining ingredient, is time. If it works at all, and I don't see why it won't work at least somewhat, a week of being left alone should yield measurable separation, hopefully a good deal. Granted a year would likely be better than a week, but as this is an, umm, "immediate need," a week would achieve the basic objective of reducing the methanol within a timeframe that should be acceptable.

Hmm, thought of an improvement. Funnel. At the top have a funnel or similar enlargement attached to the pipe or hose, fill so the funnel will have liquid in it too, the methanol will rise into the funnel where the larger surface area will yield greater evaporation than the pipe/hose alone would, further reducing the methanol concentration.

...I think you made it quite clear that it can't be done without special/expensive equipment.
I sure hope not, this specifically is meant to be a cheap method with minimal equipment that practically anyone can use. The caveat of course being "You're stupid for even trying it, but as long as you're going to anyway..." You probably can't tell, but I've really put my "politics" to the side in this topic. Stupid people doing stupid things need not-so-stupid help to do what they're going to stupidly do anyway in a less-stupid manner. I hope this method is tried and shown to work. I hope it spreads among these people, worldwide, and it gets accepted that this is the method that works, the "bread filter" is stupid old nonsense no one with a working brain cell will use. And then... I'll console myself with the thought that at least it'll mean less strain on the remaining governmental "safety net" due to less long-term physical disabilities the state would pick up the tab for. Maybe someday my taxes will even go down because of it.

And while composing this, I had a vision of an alky who couldn't wait trying to add centrifugal force, swinging an 8-foot chunk of garden hose over his head. Eh, could probably use the exercise. It'd also be interesting if someone would homebrew an inexpensive centrifugal system that would work good enough, resulting in a growing underground economy for "modified denatured alcohol," aka "modmeth." Prosecution would be interesting as they start with a legal product and are selling something that's still not legally booze, nor will they claim it is so they duck even a fraud charge.

Oh well, at least there'll be those who'll insist the top of the tube can't be all that bad and start chugging it down.
. Wow! A simple "It'll centrifuge" would have been sufficient. heehee
Don't really want to give you greif. I'm actually interested in alternative distillation possibilities. I assumed they lived in the UK, where at 18 they'd be able to purchase alcohol legally at that age. Anyway, homebrew or distilling "cooking sherry" would be a better alternative. The ability, to treat "meths" properly to make it safely consumeable (if that's even possible), is probably absent in most people who would desire to do so.
Sandisk1duo6 years ago
Just go to some homeless guy, slip him $10 and tell him to buy you a six pack
Kiteman6 years ago
A safer method would be to buy proper drinking alcohol, or to brew your own. That is also by far the cheapest and easiest method, given the effort and expense involved in rendering denatured alcohol safe enough to not blind you and kill you. You're too young to buy alcohol? Tough - wait until it's legal, or until your parents serve wine with a meal.
Big Bwana6 years ago
Meths is Toxic, plain and simple you will die, and even if, and I mean even if you knew what your doing with a still, there is virtually no Ethanol in it, and does it not have Bittrex added to it (( Ummmm Bittrex )) or Mustard oil (( thats nice to but it's normally added to aerosols )) And just to make sure I read the bottle, Yep there it is "Can Not Be Made Non-Poisonous" right there on the back of the bottle along with "Will Cause Blindness" The usual fatal dose is 100–125 mL, and after you get over the first symptoms , about four hours which are like being drunk, and you figure your in the clear and you can drink this next Friday night and have another good time , the fun is only starting.. Over the next oh 30 hours things on your body will start to fail and you will DIE, painfully....
CameronSS6 years ago
Meths, or methylated spirits, or denatured ethanol, cannot be distilled to be made safe to drink. That's why it's cheaper then buying 200 proof alcohol; since there is no way to make it safe, it isn't taxed as an alcoholic beverage. If your sister is drinking meths after filtering it through bread, for her sake, make her stop! It does nothing to remove the toxic methanol from the less-toxic ethanol. The ethanol is the alcohol that causes euphoria, whereas methanol destroys the optic nerve, causing blindness, and has no euphoria-inducing properties.
NachoMahma6 years ago
. While the bread may make meths taste slightly better, it does nothing to remove the methanol. Since the boiling points of ethanol and methanol are so close, it's not practical for a DIYer to distill. Carbon filtering won't work. Ie, you can NOT make meths safe to drink.
That and most meths are just meths, very little ethanol...
. Oh. Over here, denatured alcohol (seems to be the closest thing to meths we have) is mostly ethanol. We don't classify pure MeOH under the same name. Sorry for the confusion - I keep forgetting we're multinational.
. Either way, it's still poisonous. ;)
Ah right well either way it'll kill ya... My suggestion would be to simply buy very cheap vodka, that's a safe alternative... Not to mention the fact that overall costs remain similar thanks to the fact that you need distillation equipment and whatnot...
you can't distill meths to be safe, it's the stuff that you remove after distillation to make booze safe to drink...
Brennn106 years ago
Meth? Why?
British nickname for methylated spirits. Not methamphetamine
skunkbait6 years ago
The only thing that might keep you from dying, is if you go blind first and can't find the rest of your rot-gut poison.
you are both future dead people, don't drink that stuff, period.