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A clear, colorless, slightly volatile solvent with a slight alcoholic smell. Methanol, commonly known as methyl alcohol, was discovered in 1661 by R. Boyle. It is made by the destructive distillation of Wood, peat, and Lignite as well as by the partial oxidation of natural gas hydrocarbons. Methanol is highly polar and is usually a better solvent than ethanol. It is used in the manufacture of several organic compounds. Methanol is also used as a solvent for lacquers, Shellac, Rosin, dyes, oils, paint removers, and degreasing compounds. Because of its toxicity, methanol is used to denature ethanol.

Synonyms and Related Terms

methanol (IUPAC); methyl alcohol; wood alcohol; wood spirits; pyroxylic spirit; wood naphtha; methyl hydrate; methylic alcohol; Columbian spirits; carbinol


  • Flammable. Flash point = 12 C (54 F)
  • Dangerous fire risk. Forms an explosive mixture with air.
  • Toxic by ingestion and inhalation. Ingestion of small amounts will cause blindness.
  • Fisher Scientific: MSDS
  • EPA lists methanol as hazardous waste due to its ignitability; concentrations over 10% must be disposed of appropriately

Physical and Chemical Properties

Miscible with water, ethanol, ether, benzene, ketones and most other organic solvents. Methanol burns with a pale blue flame.

Composition CH3OH
CAS 67-56-1
Melting Point -97.8 C
Density 0.7866 g/ml
Molecular Weight mol. wt.=32.04
Refractive Index 1.326-1.329
Boiling Point 64.7 C

Resources and Citations

  • R. J. Gettens, G.L. Stout, Painting Materials, A Short Encyclopaedia, Dover Publications, New York, 1966
  • G.S.Brady, Materials Handbook, McGraw-Hill Book Co., New York, 1971 Comment: p. 505
  • Reed Kay, The Painter's Guide To Studio Methods and Materials, Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1983
  • Ralph Mayer, A Dictionary of Art Terms and Techniques, Harper and Row Publishers, New York, 1969 (also 1945 printing)
  • Richard S. Lewis, Hawley's Condensed Chemical Dictionary, Van Nostrand Reinhold, New York, 10th ed., 1993
  • Susan E. Schur, Conservation Terminology: A review of Past & Current Nomenclature of Materials, Technology and Conservation, Spring (p.34-39); Summer (p.35-38); Fall (p.25-36), 1985
  • Michael McCann, Artist Beware, Watson-Guptill Publications, New York City, 1979
  • Kurt Wehlte, The Materials and Techniques of Painting, Van Nostrand Reinhold Co., New York, 1975
  • The Merck Index, Martha Windholz (ed.), Merck Research Labs, Rahway NJ, 10th edition, 1983 Comment: entry 6024; ref. index = 1.329
  • Van Nostrand's Scientific Encyclopedia, Douglas M. Considine (ed.), Van Nostrand Reinhold, New York, 1976
  • Random House, Webster's Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language, Grammercy Book, New York, 1997
  • The American Heritage Dictionary or Encarta, via Microsoft Bookshelf 98, Microsoft Corp., 1998
  • CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics, Robert Weast (ed.), CRC Press, Boca Raton, Florida, v. 61, 1980 Comment: ref. index=1.326