What is Ethanol? - Formula, Structure & Uses

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  • 0:01 Ethanol's Formula & Structure
  • 1:00 Uses of Ethanol
  • 1:11 Alcoholic Beverages
  • 1:37 Hand Sanitizers & Wipes
  • 2:01 Various Solvents
  • 2:29 Fuel
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Nissa Garcia

Nissa has a masters degree in chemistry and has taught high school science and college level chemistry.

Ethanol is a chemical compound that is present in a lot of things we use on a daily basis, ranging from perfumes to alcoholic beverages. In this lesson, we will learn more about the formula, structure, and uses of ethanol.

Ethanol: Formula and Structure

Did you know that the red fluid that rises in a thermometer is ethanol? Did you also know that the alcohol present in alcoholic beverages is ethanol?

Ethanol in Alcoholic Drinks and Thermometer
Ethanol Uses

Ethanol, also commonly referred to as ethyl alcohol, pure alcohol, grain alcohol, and drinking alcohol, is most known as the alcohol present in alcoholic beverages. Ethanol, which can also be abbreviated as EtOH, is a colorless liquid with a slight odor, and it is soluble in water. It is flammable and volatile, so it evaporates easily when left in an open container.

Ethanol's chemical formula is C2H6O. This chemical formula can also be written as CH3CH2OH or C2H5OH. It is made of nine atoms that include two carbon (C) atoms, six hydrogen (H) atoms, and one oxygen (O) atom.

Its chemical structure is illustrated in the following picture. Here, there is a methyl group (which is the CH3-), a methylene group (which is the -CH2-), and a hydroxyl group (which is the -OH) in the chemical structure.

Ethanol Structure and Chemical Formula
Ethanol Structure

Uses of Ethanol

Ethanol is such a simple chemical compound, but it has so many uses. It is used in antiseptics, household cleaning products, and even varnishes. In this section, we'll look at some of the many uses of ethanol.

Alcoholic Beverages

In adult social gatherings and parties, it will be highly likely that there will be alcoholic beverages. Ethanol is the alcohol that is found in our alcoholic beverages like beer, whiskey, and brandy. In alcoholic beverages, the ethanol is produced from the process of fermentation, which is the chemical breakdown of sugar by yeast.

There are times when we are served 'flaming beverages', much like the illustration below. This is due to the fact that ethanol, which is present in the drink, is flammable.

Ethanol in Alcoholic Beverages
Ethanol in Drinks

Hand Sanitizers and Medical Wipes

We often see hand sanitizer dispensers in public restrooms. During the flu season, we also tend to carry a small bottle of hand sanitizer in our bags. Ethanol is effective in killing organisms like bacteria, fungi, and viruses, so it is no surprise that another common use of ethanol is that it is an ingredient in hand sanitizer gels. It is also used in medical wipes and at clinics and hospitals.

Ethanol in Hand Sanitizer Gels
Hand sanitizer

Various Solvents

Do you ever wonder what the solvent is for products like perfumes, varnish, and paints? What these products have in common is that the solvent used is ethanol. Because it is easily mixed with water and many other organic compounds, ethanol makes an ideal solvent for these products. It is a common solvent in personal care products, like deodorants, hairsprays, and astringents. It is also found in food additives, like food coloring and flavoring. Paints, lacquers, and varnish also have ethanol as one of their components.

Ethanol as a Solvent

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