Properties of Methanol

Methanol, also known as methyl alcohol, wood alcohol, wood naphtha or wood spirits, is a chemical with formula CH3OH (often abbreviated MeOH). It is the simplest alcohol, and is a light, volatile, colorless, flammable, liquid with a distinctive odor that is very similar to but slightly sweeter than ethanol (drinking alcohol). At room temperature it is a polar liquid.

Methanol is produced naturally in the anaerobic metabolism of many varieties of bacteria, and is ubiquitous in the environment. As a result, there is a small fraction of methanol vapor in the atmosphere. Over the course of several days, atmospheric methanol is oxidized with the help of sunlight to carbon dioxide and water.

Methanol burns in air forming carbon dioxide and water:

        2 CH3OH + 3 O2 → 2 CO2 + 4 H2O

A methanol flame is almost colorless in bright sunlight.

Methanol is often called wood alcohol because it was once produced chiefly as a byproduct of the destructive distillation of wood.  Most methanol today is produced from the methane found in natural gas, but methanol is also produced from all types of biomass, coal, waste, and even CO2 pollution from power plants.  Learn more about methanol production here.

Methanol is a colorless liquid that boils at 64.96° C (148.93° F) and solidifies at -93.9° C (-137° F). It forms explosive mixtures with air and burns with a non-luminous flame. Methanol is also a toxin and should not be ingested – drinking quantities of methanol can result in blindness and severe damage to the central nervous system.  For more information on methanol and health, please visit our Health & Safety section.