How To Test For Methanol (Is It Possible?)

Are you wondering how to test for methanol in your drink? Amateur distillers, commercial brewing professionals, and keen alcohol drinkers may be interested in testing for methanol in alcoholic beverages.

Below, we talk about what methanol is, where we commonly find methanol, and why it’s important to test for methanol in alcoholic beverages. 

Later, we’ll walk you through the scientific testing method and give you the inside scoop on where to find affordable methanol test kits in your price range. 

What is Methanol?

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) say that methanol is a clear liquid that is naturally present in many of the foods we eat and beverages we drink. 

They also say naturally occurring forms of methanol are harmless at low levels. Methanol poisoning can occur when we ingest large quantities of this toxic substance. 

Methanol has a pungent odor that is not easily detectable by smell. 

How is methanol formed?

Methanol is also produced in small amounts during the process of alcohol fermentation. It’s actually a misnomer that distilling ‘produces’ methanol. Distilling can only concentrate the methanol that is already present if done incorrectly, or remove the methanol from the product when done right.

The amount produced will vary with different conditions, including the temperature, the type of yeast and other bacteria in the solution, the type of food you provide to them, the minerals, and more. What you need to watch out for is fermenting foods containing lots of pectin as this is the leading cause of methanol in the final product.

You can read more on how to avoid methanol when distilling in this article.

How Does Methanol Affect The Body?

Large quantities of ingested methanol can be lethal. It’s important for commercial alcohol brewers, home brewers, and alcohol enthusiasts to have a medium for testing. 

How does methanol cause blindness?

When methanol is ingested into the body, it is converted to formaldehyde. It then produces formic acid, which turns the blood more acidic in the body. It affects the optical nerve on a cellular level and interrupts the mitochondrial function in the optic nerve. Methanol poisoning can cause blindness by damaging the optic nerve. Formic acid, produced when the body metabolizes methanol, can build up and damage the optic nerve. This damage can lead to vision problems and even blindness.

How does methanol cause death?

Methanol poisoning can cause death by damaging the liver or by causing seizures. Formic acid, produced when the body metabolizes methanol, can build up and damage the liver. This damage can lead to liver failure and death. Seizures caused by methanol poisoning can also be fatal.

We’ve written this complete article on how methanol acts on the body to cause blindness and death if you want to learn more

Why Do We Need to Test for Methanol?

It’s important to test for methanol that can be present in the alcohol we drink to prevent illness or untimely death. According to biologists, it only takes a few ounces of methanol to activate negative chemical responses in the body, which can lead to sickness or fatality. 

The presence of methanol in drinking alcohol and spirits can be dangerous. We commonly find “ethanol” in alcoholic beverages and drinks. Both chemicals share a nearly identical chemical composition, so it’s easy to confuse them. 

The primary difference between methanol and ethanol is the chemical makeup that changes how the liver processes and excretes chemicals from the body. Biologists say our bodies convert methanol to formaldehyde, which is fatal if consumed in large doses. 

Can You Test for Methanol in Alcohol?

Commercial alcohol producers and licensed breweries have specialized equipment to test for and remove excessive amounts of methanol in fermented beverages. 

This rigorous testing and removal process is not available for people who illegally brew or distill alcohol in home breweries outside of licensed facilities. 

People who brew and consume home-brewed alcohol without testing for methanol risk exposure to high levels of this toxic alcohol-based contaminant. 

According to historians, alcohol that contained high levels of methanol was likely the cause of death for thousands of Americans during the prohibition era when drinking alcohol was illegal for everyone in the country. 

Although we have improved testing methods and procedures for removing toxic chemicals like methanol from most commercially produced alcohol, methanol-related poisonings are still common today. 

Home brewers and unlicensed alcohol producers rarely have the testing capabilities and equipment to brew and distill alcohol to methanol-free levels. 

Can You Test the Amount of Methanol in Alcohol?

There are two methods for finding out if a beverage contains methanol. The crude or primitive testing method uses the five senses to detect methanol in a beverage sample. 

The scientific method of testing for methanol in alcohol combines the scientific method with the primitive method to test for methanol in beverages. 

How to Test for Methanol: Step-by-Step Instructions 

We’ve got a few options when it comes to testing for methanol. Some crude and subjective, and others that are a lot more scientific.

The Crude Testing Methods

The least scientific of the methanol testing options relies on sniffing for strong, pungent, chemical-like odors. Primitive testing methods include lighting a beverage on fire and looking at the color of the flame.

  • The Flame Test: Take a small sample of the alcohol solution and light it on fire – if you witness a yellow fire instead of a blue flame, the solution contains methanol. 
  • The Smell Test: Smelling the beverage is the easiest methanol test, yet one that takes a lot of practice to hone your senses. Methanol has a sharp, stinging scent that is quite potent and can be easily recognized as ‘the smell of alcohol’ while ethanol is much smoother, creamier, and has a sweetness to it.

The Scientific Testing Method

Uses the chemical Sodium Dichromate to test for methanol in alcoholic beverages.

Step #1. – Start by taking a small sample of the alcoholic beverage you want to test. 

Step #2. – Next, mix 8mL of Sodium Dichromate solutions with 4 ml of Sulfuric Acid. 

Step #3. – After mixing the testing solution, the next step is to add about 10 drops of the beverage you set aside earlier to the mixture. 

Step #4. – Mix the alcohol with the test components by gently swirling the solution around. 

Step #5. – Hold the solution at arm’s length while you fan the smell of the mixture toward your nose. 

Step #6. If you detect a pungent aroma that indicates that there is methanol in the beverage.A negative result will show up as a fruity or sweet scent that shows no methanol is present. 

Can You Buy Methanol Test Kits?

Surely you can buy kits off the shelf just like a pool kit or pregnancy test that can tell us in a matter of seconds if a substance contains methanol? Well, unfortunately not.

for those based in the USA, Mile High Distilling sell a test kit which in fact is a sample that gets posted off to a partner laboratory. This is then analyzed with a mass spectrometer to determine the exact methanol concentration.

What about on Amazon? Again, unfortunately your search will come up dry.

The best option if you are determined to test your products for methanol is to find a local laboratory in your area that is happy to do the analysis at a reasonable price.

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