Alcohols have a variety of uses in our everyday society because of how versatile of a functional group it is.

Drink it

One of the most commonly served beverages in the world, ethanol is consumed by millions of adults each years. Ethanol is commercially produced using a process called fermentation; this is the process in which yeasts is used to break down glucose into alcohol and CO2.

Carbon dioxide gas bubbles out of the fermenting solution into the air leaving a mixture of ethanol and water, which is later distilled and then sold to individuals looking to get drunk.

Burn it

The first four alcohol functional groups (methanol, ethanol, propanol, butanol) can be biologically synthesized to be used as an alternative to fossil fuels as they burn very cleanly, producing only CO2 and water. Ethanol can be made from sources such as corn and sugar making it a useful renewable resource for countries that can’t meet their petrol needs.

Dissolving it

Ethanol is widely used as a solvent. Since it is relatively safe and nontoxic, it can be used to dissolve many organic compounds which are otherwise insoluble in water. It is used, for example, as a solvent in medical drugs, perfumes, and vegetable essences.

Cleaning with it

methylated spirits (is a product of ethanol mixed with a small quantity of methanol) or isopropyl alcohol, which can be used to clean industrial machinery. Ethanol can be used as an antibacterial to sterilize the skin before injections and is commonly used in hand sanitizers.



Ethers are quite unreactive and therefore are desirable solvents for fats, oils, waxes, perfumes, resins, dyes, gums, and hydrocarbons. In addition, vapors of certain ethers are used as insecticides and fumigants for topsoil.


Ethers also play an important role in pharmacology and medicine, especially for use of anesthetics. Methoxymethane or otherwise known as codeine is an effective pain-relieving drug and is the primary ingredient in morphine.

Ethyl Ether (or just ether) was one of the first anesthetics used for surgical procedures during the 1800s. However, ether is highly flammable and has been mostly replaced by other less-flammable anesthetics, such as nitrous oxide and halothane.

Industrial Purposes

Ethoxyethane (ethyl ether) is quite volatile and therefore used as a starter fluid for diesel engines and gasoline engines in cold weather. Dimethyl ether is used as a spray propellant and refrigerant; ethers of ethylene glycol are used as solvents and plasticizers. Methyl t-butyl ether (MTBE) is a gasoline stabilizer that increases octane concentration and reduces pollutants.

author avatar
William Anderson (Schoolworkhelper Editorial Team)
William completed his Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts in 2013. He current serves as a lecturer, tutor and freelance writer. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, walking his dog and parasailing. Article last reviewed: 2022 | St. Rosemary Institution © 2010-2024 | Creative Commons 4.0


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