The key difference between ethanol and methanol is that ethanol is comparatively less toxic so we can use it in beverages whereas methanol is toxic and thus, we do not use it in beverages.
Ethanol and methanol are alcoholic compounds since they have a –OH group. These are the smallest alcohols in the series of alcohols. The OH group of these compounds attaches with an sp3 hybridized carbon. Moreover, both are polar liquids and have the capability to form hydrogen bonds. Therefore, both have somewhat similar physical and chemical properties. However, mistaking the two can result in fatal accidents due to their differences in toxicities.
What is Ethanol?
Ethanol is a simple alcohol with the molecular formula C2H5OH. It is a clear, colourless liquid with a characteristic odour. Furthermore, ethanol is a flammable liquid. The melting point of this alcohol is -114.1 oC, and the boiling point is 78.5 oC. Ethanol is a polar compound. In addition, it can form hydrogen bonds due to the presence of –OH group.
Besides, ethanol is useful as a beverage. According to the ethanol percentage, there are different types of beverages such as wine, beer, whiskey, brandy, arrack, etc. Ethanol can be easily obtained by the sugar fermentation process using zymase enzyme. This enzyme naturally presents in yeast; thus, in the anaerobic respiration, yeast can produce ethanol.
Ethanol, at low percentages, is comparatively less toxic than methanol. However, it is toxic to the body, and it converts into acetaldehyde in the liver, which is also toxic. Other than the use of it as beverage, we can also use ethanol as an antiseptic to clean surfaces from microorganisms. Also, it is useful as a fuel and a fuel additive in vehicles. Moreover, ethanol is miscible with water, and it serves as a good solvent.
What is Methanol?
Methanol is the simplest member of the alcohol family. It has the molecular formula CH3OH, and the molecular weight is 32 g mol-1. Methanol is an extremely light, flammable, volatile, and colourless liquid. More importantly, it is highly toxic. It has a characteristic smell and a burning taste. The melting point of methanol is -98 oC, and the boiling point is 65 oC.
Furthermore, methanol reacts with oxygen gas to produce carbon dioxide and water. Also, the anaerobic respiration of some bacteria varieties naturally produce methanol. Apart from that, we can industrially produce it from fossil fuels such as natural gas or coal. Methanol is highly used as a solvent in laboratories for dissolving polar solutes. Furthermore, it is useful as a fuel in vehicles, antifreeze in car radiators, and as a denaturant. Also, we can use it as a precursor in many another synthesis process as well.
What is the Difference Between Ethanol and Methanol?
Ethanol and methanol are alcoholic compounds. The key difference between ethanol and methanol is that ethanol is comparatively less toxic so we can use it in beverages whereas methanol is toxic and thus, we do not use it in beverages. Also, methanol is the simplest alcohol in the alcohol family.
Moreover, ethanol has two carbons, and methanol has only one carbon. Therefore, the molecular weight of ethanol is higher than that of methanol. Hence, this is also a difference between ethanol and methanol. Furthermore, methanol has a lower boiling point than ethanol. Therefore, we can separate these two by distillation technique, when mixed in a solution.
As another significant difference between ethanol and methanol, ethanol is a renewable liquid, since it is made from sugar cane or any similar crops, but methanol is not renewable as it is made from fossil fuels.
Summary – Ethanol vs Methanol
Ethanol and methanol are the simplest alcoholic compounds. The key difference between ethanol and methanol is that the ethanol is comparatively less toxic so we can use it in beverages whereas methanol is toxic and thus, we do not use it in beverages.
1. Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Ethyl Alcohol.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 5 Oct. 2018. Available here
2. “Methyl Alcohol.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. PubChem Compound Database, U.S. National Library of Medicine. Available here