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Will Denatured Alcohol Damage Car Paint?

Will Denatured Alcohol Damage Car Paint

Before doing anything to your car, it’s important to do your research to avoid a fix that might cost you hundreds of dollars.

Denatured alcohol is ethanol with additives to make it poisonous, bad-tasting, foul-smelling and nauseating to discourage recreational consumption.

Sometimes it’s dyed so that it’s easily identifiable.

It can be used as a solvent or fuel for alcohol burners and camping stoves.

Using pure alcohol on your paint will dissolve the clear coat down to the paint layer. Aside from that, the right ratio of denatured alcohol to water can be a good de-greaser:

A mixture of 5-10% denatured alcohol to 90-95% water should be safe. I would start with a lower concentration mix and work my way up to be on the safe side.

What Denatured Alcohol Does to Automotive Paint

Professional automotive detailers have been known to use a mixture of 30% isopropyl alcohol to 70% water to remove things like bugs, tar and tree sap from cars before moving on to the rest of the detailing process.

Isopropyl alcohol is easy enough to get from your local pharmacy. Denatured alcohol is ethanol, which is more highly concentrated.

It’s a versatile solvent, stain-remover, thinner and cleaner.

As a solvent, it thins shellac, lacquers, resins and inks. That’s why I suggest a ratio of only 5% to 10%.

You can use a spray bottle to apply it to your car’s paint the way you would with an isopropyl alcohol mixture.

Either denatured or isopropyl alcohol should work for cleaning your car’s paint. Just be sure to start wiping it off as soon as it’s applied.

Using Denatured Alcohol to Remove Car Wax

My parents bought me a three-year-old Pontiac Sunfire for my senior year of high school. It was manta green metallic and looked exactly like the image above.

Not only was it my first car with a manual transmission. But it was my first newish car, and I cleaned the inside and outside meticulously every weekend.

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Sometimes I got wax on some of the plastic trim. It’s a nuisance to get off.

If you’re unsure about what you’re doing like I was, just use wax remover. It’s the safest option.

For removing wax on vinyl surfaces, you can also use a denatured alcohol mixture on the affected area to dissolve the wax.

Be sure to rub gently so you don’t cause any damage. But remove it quickly.

Denatured Alcohol and Your Car’s Interior Plastics

If you’re like most Americans, you spend a lot of time in your car which it gets dirty with stubborn stains and smudges.

Denatured alcohol is ethanol alcohol which is more aggressive than isopropyl alcohol.

The interior of your car is made up of different type of surfaces and materials. Denatured alcohol might prove to aggressive.

You want to clean and disinfect the interior of your car without causing any damage. Isopropyl alcohol is a proven disinfectant and is safer to use on your car’s interior than denatured alcohol.

It will remove many stains, smudges and residues. And it kills bacteria and viruses.

You can use isopropyl alcohol with a 70% water mixture instead of denatured alcohol to wipe down hard surfaces like the steering wheel, dash, armrest, console, seat adjuster, shifter, cup-holders and door handles.

But don’t use isopropyl alcohol on leather seats as it will wear away the protective coating which will age them prematurely.

Rubbing Alcohol and Car Paint

Rubbing alcohol can be either isopropyl alcohol or an ethanol-based liquid. Isopropyl alcohol is the most widely available type of rubbing alcohol.

Rubbing alcohol is a mixture of isopropyl alcohol and water with about 70% alcohol. Sometimes it contains other ingredients whereas isopropyl alcohol is pure alcohol.

Rubbing alcohol won’t damage the paint on your car if its diluted properly.

A 10% rubbing alcohol to 80-85% water solution should be enough to clean the stains and grease on your car without causing damage to the paint.

While rubbing alcohol already has a 70% isopropyl alcohol to 30% water mixture making it safe to clean and disinfect the interior of your car.

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To be on the safe side, I would dilute that mixture even more.

Have you ever noticed how rubbing alcohol dries out your skin? It has the same effect on your car’s interior surfaces.

If you don’t want to create a mixture, I would wipe an area with the rubbing alcohol.

Then quickly come back and wipe it off with a damp cleaning cloth in a wax on, wax off method.

Vodka and Car Paint

Vodka is a liquor usually made with fermented grains and potatoes. It has a standard alcohol concentration of 40%.

Even though the concentration of alcohol is lower than rubbing alcohol, and much lower than denatured alcohol.

If not removed correctly, vodka can cause some damage to your paint job.

Hand Sanitizer and Car Paint

The topcoat of your car’s paint is just a thin layer of lacquer – it’s delicate and quite sensitive. Its purpose is to stop the paint on your car from oxidizing.

The good news is that a low concentration of alcohol won’t cause any damage to it.

Hand sanitizer is mainly used for sterilization. It doesn’t contain any alkali or phosphorus, so it has a limited decontamination effect.

As long as you stick to a hand sanitizer with a low concentration of alcohol, it shouldn’t cause any damage to the surface of your topcoat.

Make sure to avoid plastics and leather, however.

Isopropyl Alcohol and Clear Coat

Isopropyl alcohol is a versatile product when it comes to cleaning the surface of your car.

Again, detailers use it to restore the original surface of a car – they often use isopropyl alcohol with a clay bar.

The isopropyl alcohol is used for removing surface stains like oils and gasoline. It’s also used to remove waxes and sealants before compounding and polishing.

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But if you use a wax-free car wash soap, then wiping following up with an isopropyl alcohol mixture is overkill.

A better place to use this mixture would be to clean the windshield and mirrors. Or when removing stick residue like the remains of an old bumper sticker.

I use it to remove an old parking sticker on the inside of my car’s windshield instead of a product like Goo-Gone.

Removing Rubbing Alcohol from Car Paint

Let’s say you accidentally get some rubbing alcohol dowsed all over your car’s paint and you start to see some discoloration.

You should know that rubbing alcohol doesn’t have enough concentration of alcohol to affect the clear coat to the point where you’ll start seeing discoloration.

But what you’ll want to do is lightly water sand the affected area with 1200 grit paper or a rubbing compound.

Then buff and polish.

You can thank Ottowa John from for that awesome tidbit.

The Most Damaging Thing to Car Paint

No matter how old your car is, the best way to keep it looking fresh and new is by maintaining the paint job.

Some of the worst enemies to a gleaming paint job are:

  • Sticky tree sap which can cause damage to the clear coat and discoloration.
  • Bird droppings which is acidic and can eat through the clear coat.
  • Acidic beverages that’s accidentally spilled onto the surface of the car like soft drinks and coffee.
  • And that extra bit of gas that dribbles down the side of your car when you fill up isn’t doing the paint any favors either.