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Thread: Alcohol safety

  1. #1

    Default Alcohol safety

    Hello,

    I was wondering if any of our more technical members have any tips on the safe use of alcohol for perfumery. I am very careful not to use it near open flame, however I just read this post in Andy Tauer's blog and I was wondering if perhaps there is more to know:

    http://www.tauerperfumes.com/blog/ma.../2012/07/boom/

    I certainly do NOT want to cause explosions (obviously). Right now I pour my 190 proof alcohol from the 1 gal metal container to a 750ml glass bottle with a glass funnel. I then pour the required amount of alcohol into a beaker, to dilute materials to 10% in 1oz bottles (or smaller) for experimentation. This blog post made me wonder if perhaps I should be using a metal funnel (and he mentions a wire)...or is that not necessary unless pouring larger quantities?

  2. #2

    Default Re: Alcohol safety

    The problem with high-proof ethanol is that it produces a lot of vapour and when mixed with air that vapour is potentially explosive. Explosions can be triggered by small sparks, including those generated inside a switch when you switch lights on or off (note switching off as well as on) or those generated by static.

    The most important precaution to prevent explosions is to prevent a build up of vapour: so when you are decanting large volumes of ethanol, do so in a well ventilated area (I often do this outside). If you have a spillage, remember that ethanol vapour is heavier than air and so will tend to sink into the lowest places. Opening doors is much more effective than opening windows for getting rid of it and crucially if there has been a spill don't switch anything on or off (including ventilation fans if you have them), but most importantly avoid touching any switches or potential sources of static electricity that are low down. Synthetic carpets can be a particular problem as they often generate static when walked on, so these are not suitable for perfumery work areas. Glass in contact with certain materials (classically cat fur, but many other materials will do it too) can generate static sparks with a little rubbing - hence the precaution Tauer takes.

    Heating ethanol is especially dangerous as this creates a lot of vapour very quickly, so try to avoid this if you can and where you need to heat it, do so by immersion in hot water only, never by direct heat (with or without flames) and obviously never use naked flames anywhere where ethanol fumes could accumulate.
    Chris Bartlett
    Perfumes from the edge . . .

    www.perfumedesigner.co.uk
    Twitter: @PellWallPerfume

    If you are looking for a perfumery consultation Iím happy to quote: if you want free advice, thatís what these forums are for
    You can also join my blog if you wish to ask questions of me.

  3. #3

    Default Re: Alcohol safety

    Oh my. Thanks for your reply and detailed info, Chris! I will be certain to decant the alcohol on a tiled surface with an open window, or outside.

    However, my studio space is carpeted (with flat "office" carpeting, kind of a looped flat pile). I have a chair mat directly beneath my chair. Do you think I need to worry to much about making my 1 ounce dilutions (carefully pouring from a 750 mil bottle into 25 ml beaker?) and doing my small blending experiments there? Or is the concern really with large decants? I don't want to worry myself to the point of not getting my studio work done!

    (I'm thinking that people make drinks with Everclear and there is no special caution to pouring from a bottle of that size, I don't think, except to keep from flame?)

    Thanks again!

  4. #4

    Default Re: Alcohol safety

    Quote Originally Posted by farawayspices View Post
    Oh my. Thanks for your reply and detailed info, Chris! I will be certain to decant the alcohol on a tiled surface with an open window, or outside.

    However, my studio space is carpeted (with flat "office" carpeting, kind of a looped flat pile). I have a chair mat directly beneath my chair. Do you think I need to worry to much about making my 1 ounce dilutions (carefully pouring from a 750 mil bottle into 25 ml beaker?) and doing my small blending experiments there? Or is the concern really with large decants? I don't want to worry myself to the point of not getting my studio work done!

    (I'm thinking that people make drinks with Everclear and there is no special caution to pouring from a bottle of that size, I don't think, except to keep from flame?)

    Thanks again!
    I don't think you need to worry too much about 1 ounce (30ml) dilutions. The thing to consider here is what will happen if there is a serious spill: say you knock over the bottle you're trying to fill for example. In the Tauer example that could result in a serious flood of ethanol all over the place and as a result loads of heavy vapour everywhere. For you it can only result in a small amount of vapour, so the danger is minimal.

    What I do for dilutions is keep some ethanol in a 250ml Simax bottle with a pouring ring - and I dilute using that - that means that the worst mess I can make is only a quarter of a litre of ethanol even if I were to drop the bottle I'm pouring from.

    Small spills I just mop up and carry on, but if there is ever a major spill (so far only once) then I immediately open the large patio door to the outside and only then start cleaning up (I work with the internal door always open, so opening the outside door will always create a through-flow of air). In good weather I often work with it open anyway, just because it's nicer.

    When I need to refill the Simax bottle I do that from a 5 litre container (kept in the workroom). Most of my ethanol is stored securely outside and when the 5 litre container needs re-filling I do that outdoors away from the storage area - I'm fortunate to have plenty of undercover outdoor space to do that in, even if it's raining.

    It's really about common sense precautions, once you understand that the risk isn't that the liquid will catch light, so much as the vapour exploding and you know that the vapour is heavier than air, it's simple enough to work out how to avoid trouble in whatever circumstances you have.
    Chris Bartlett
    Perfumes from the edge . . .

    www.perfumedesigner.co.uk
    Twitter: @PellWallPerfume

    If you are looking for a perfumery consultation Iím happy to quote: if you want free advice, thatís what these forums are for
    You can also join my blog if you wish to ask questions of me.

  5. #5

    Default Re: Alcohol safety

    Thanks , Chris, this is helpful info...I appreciate it!
    I hope this thread is useful to other Indie Perfumers and hobbyists, too. It is not a topic that is discussed very often, and so important!

  6. #6

    Default Re: Alcohol safety

    I agree that your quantities are not quite risky, Tauer deals with several liters of ethanol and other flammable liquids so he definitely needs to take precautions.
    But actually, what he talks about is not the build up of vapour (which IS definitely one of the safety issues) but the build up of static charge. That is due to the use of solvents and chemicals which can create something like a "capacitor effect" which long story short means you create sparks BECAUSE you are pouring liquids (which are the responsible of charge build up). That is why he uses metal funnel and metal cans which are both grounded. If you want to read something else about it go here http://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/preve...atic.html#_1_4
    Don't ask me why it's from the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, it's just the first I found
    Sebastiano - Organic Chemist

  7. #7

    Default Re: Alcohol safety

    Hi Sebastiano,

    Thanks for the info....but now I'm nervous again, lol. Just so I don't have a panic attack when I fill my glass bottle from my metal gallon container into a glass funnel, is there any special procedures I need to be following, or is doing a slow pour, preferably outside, or in a ventilated room, enough?
    Thanks again

  8. #8

    Default Re: Alcohol safety

    Quote Originally Posted by otocione View Post
    I agree that your quantities are not quite risky, Tauer deals with several liters of ethanol and other flammable liquids so he definitely needs to take precautions.
    But actually, what he talks about is not the build up of vapour (which IS definitely one of the safety issues) but the build up of static charge. That is due to the use of solvents and chemicals which can create something like a "capacitor effect" which long story short means you create sparks BECAUSE you are pouring liquids (which are the responsible of charge build up). That is why he uses metal funnel and metal cans which are both grounded. If you want to read something else about it go here http://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/preve...atic.html#_1_4
    Don't ask me why it's from the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, it's just the first I found
    You are quite correct that I had neglected this aspect and perfume can contain polar compounds and so generate a charge just from being poured from, or sloshed about in, an ungrounded container. However no amount of sparks can cause an explosion unless there is a sufficient amount of flammable vapour in the air - so that remains the most important risk to mitigate.

    Notice that in the CCOHS advice they talk about precautions for what they describe as 'medium sized containers' by which they mean around 60 US Gallons. There is no need to worry about this with the little decants we are talking about here as not only is there not enough vapour but there isn't enough moving, polar liquid to generate enough charge to make a spark either.

    Don't Panic!
    Chris Bartlett
    Perfumes from the edge . . .

    www.perfumedesigner.co.uk
    Twitter: @PellWallPerfume

    If you are looking for a perfumery consultation Iím happy to quote: if you want free advice, thatís what these forums are for
    You can also join my blog if you wish to ask questions of me.

  9. #9

    Default Re: Alcohol safety

    Oh gosh I didn't want to create panic!
    @chris you're right, I just wanted to precise what Tauer was saying in his blog post, from a scientific point of view. Actually I hoped that saying "your quantities are not quite risky" would be enough but apparently it did not.
    So I'll say it again, faraway you don't need to worry, ok? You are not dealing with tens of liters and if you take the precautions Chris said you are gonna be safe, alright? Come on! Panic attacks are not what I would espect by somebody doing such a basic thing as mixing few milliliters of perfume.
    Sebastiano - Organic Chemist

  10. #10

    Default Re: Alcohol safety

    Thanks Sebastiano and Chris, for putting my nervous mind at ease

  11. #11

    Default Re: Alcohol safety

    Any suggestions for safely pumping SD Alcohol from a 55 gallon drum? I'm concerned that static electricity might blow me to smithereens... What about a rotary (hand cranked) plastic pump or a rotary metal pump?

    Would it be wise to add a "head" of nitrogen gas into the drum?
    Any observations would be appreciated...

  12. #12

    Default Re: Alcohol safety

    Thank you for pointing this out and reminding us. It is always better to err on the side of caution. I had a small spill ages ago and it really worried me for a while in our house due to our prehistoric heating methods. It was summer luckily but I might not have thought about it enough if I got complacent in winter and it was too cold to go outside. I think I will move my larger containers and think more carefully about the safety aspects. I'd rather not blow my family up.

    Once the spill has evaporated, do you think it leaves the spill area more flammable?

  13. #13

    Default Re: Alcohol safety

    Hello,
    I'd recommend not pumping it at all if you can avoid it - pouring is far less likely to create sparks with pure ethanol. I do recognise that a 55 gallon drum isn't easy to pour from, but they are often fitted with taps. When I used, many years ago, to deal with thousands of gallons of it we had it in a big tank with a tap at the bottom: no moving parts once the tap is open.

    If you must pump then ideally a metal pump that is earthed, which is safer than a plastic one but a plastic one is safer than a metal one that isn't earthed. Hand cranked still needs earthing just as much - static sparks are the main danger.

    If you possibly can, do this outdoors in a breeze. You are far safer with a constant flow of air to take away any hazardous vapour.

    Adding a head of nitrogen may help. but not to a huge degree - outdoors not at all as it will blow away very quickly.

    Finally on the carpet residue question, no it won't - once it's evaporated it's gone and the carpet will be no more or less flammable than before unless the alcohol was in such a large amount that it has washed away a flame-proof coating (that would take a lot). That's unlikely anyway as carpets don't usually have them (though they are common in soft furnishings, particularly from the 80s). Coatings vary as to what will dissolve them too, but any increased risk with a carpet is vanishingly small once the ethanol has evaporated.
    Last edited by Chris Bartlett; 14th November 2012 at 11:24 PM. Reason: minor corrections
    Chris Bartlett
    Perfumes from the edge . . .

    www.perfumedesigner.co.uk
    Twitter: @PellWallPerfume

    If you are looking for a perfumery consultation Iím happy to quote: if you want free advice, thatís what these forums are for
    You can also join my blog if you wish to ask questions of me.

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