Main Types of Alcohol

By Wanda Thibodeaux
The kind of alcohol in beverages differs from methanol and isopropanol.

In chemistry, there are three major types of alcohol. These include isopropyl alcohol, methyl alcohol and ethyl alcohol. Each of these types of alcohol has separate properties, so it is important to distinguish which type of alcohol you have for reasons of safety. Each kind of alcohol also has specific applications in personal and industrial environments.

Isopropyl Alcohol

Isopropyl alcohol also is called isopropanol or 2-propanol. More commonly, it is known as rubbing alcohol due to the practice of physicians rubbing the substance on the body for cooling and disinfecting. Produced by combining water and propylene, rubbing alcohol works well for sterilization. Its high evaporation rate makes it a first choice for cleaning electronics, although it is found in everyday cleaning products, as well. Isopropyl alcohol also is found in cosmetics, including lotions. The chemical formula for this type of alcohol is C3H8O.

Methyl Alcohol

Methyl alcohol, also called methanol and wood alcohol, is used primarily as an industrial solvent. For example, it is a component in paint remover and photocopier developer. People also use methyl alcohol to make other chemicals. This is because a by-product of degrading methanol is formaldehyde, which may be used to make everything from plastics to explosives. It also works to fuel internal combustion engines and keep fuel from freezing. The chemical formula for methyl alcohol is CH3OH.

Ethyl Alcohol

Ethyl alcohol, sometimes called grain alcohol, is the alcohol people consume in beverages. People usually take ethyl alcohol in a diluted concentration--the level of the concentration is known as the proof of the alcoholic beverage. Ethyl alcohol is known for its ability to alter mood and behavior. The liver usually is able to filter ethyl alcohol from the human body, but ethyl alcohol still is toxic when consumed faster than the liver can metabolize it. Like methyl alcohol, ethyl alcohol also has uses as an industrial solvent and as a fuel additive. The formula for ethyl alcohol is C2H5OH.

About the Author

Wanda Thibodeaux is a freelance writer and editor based in Eagan, Minn. She has been published in both print and Web publications and has written on everything from fly fishing to parenting. She currently works through her business website,, which functions globally and welcomes new clients.