Container for ethanol?
June 7, 2021 2:10 AM   Subscribe

I have 5 liters (34 fl oz) of medical-grade 70% ethanol coming in tomorrow. I have to prepare some sort of container for it. What do I keep it in? Are standard plastic PVC bottles ok? What about plastic water canisters for camping? This will be for long-term storage (eg. 1 to 5 years). I'm a bit worried about stuff leaching from the plastic into the alcohol, but glass will be much harder to get so quickly, and harder to store due to risk of breaking.
posted by gakiko to Home & Garden (15 answers total)
Best answer: You'd be better off with HDPE than PVC, which will tend to leach plasticizers into alcohol. Four thoroughly washed out 1.25 litre PET soda bottles will be perfectly OK for a week or two, but a five litre HDPE fuel can is what I'd use long term.

Methylated spirits (almost 100% ethanol) is regularly sold in PET bottles but over the long term it migrates through the walls and evaporates, which is why I'd go HDPE.
posted by flabdablet at 2:43 AM on June 7, 2021

Also, 34 US fluid ounces is one litre, not five.
posted by flabdablet at 2:46 AM on June 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Ooops, entered wrong info into the converter. You're right, it's 170 fl oz. Thanks!
posted by gakiko at 2:49 AM on June 7, 2021

Best answer: Put it in a one liter stainless steel thermos bottle, or a big wine bottle with a screw top (you’d need two standard fifths), or whiskey bottles. Each of the latter two are already designed to contain alcohol for years w/o deteriorating.
posted by jamjam at 3:32 AM on June 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

This might be a stupid question, but what kind of container is it coming to you in? Can you use the same material as that?
posted by Huffy Puffy at 5:22 AM on June 7, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Speaking as one who works in medical research, the reason that Nalgene bottles became popular for camping was that everything used to be shipped to labs in Nalgene containers, which got co-opted for use outside the lab after they were cleaned.

All of which is to say, hie thee to the nearest outdoors store, and pick up 5 1L Nalgene containers. They’re medical grade.
posted by caution live frogs at 5:36 AM on June 7, 2021 [8 favorites]

Best answer: 70% ethanol in a lab comes in plastic jugs; since this can’t be drunk* I wouldn’t worry too much about leaching from standard plastic containers. I’d buy a 2L Nalgene carboy if I was worried about breakage, and would store in either glass carboys or quart jars if I wasn’t. Unless it is coming in a really odd format I’d probably leave it in the container it comes in. I have 5+year old ethanol in my lab.

*You aren’t planning to drink this, correct? If it’s medical grade as you say, not food grade, it’s likely to either contain methanol, which is bad for you, or additives to make it unpalatable. This stuff is for surface sterilization and storing specimens. You may want to label it clearly in case any visitors mistake it for drinkable booze—all the more reason to leave it in its original container.
posted by tchemgrrl at 5:44 AM on June 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Answers: It's for sterilization of surfaces and wounds. It comes in an even bigger container - I don't know how big and what it's made of - and the 5L will be poured out from that to our own container.
posted by gakiko at 5:55 AM on June 7, 2021

An alternate view: one litre/quart mason jars are readily available and fairly inexpensive, and with the bands tightly strapped on the seal will keep all but the highest overpressure inside with no risk of contamination, leaching or evaporation.

Personally, I'd probably just go with standard 2L soda bottles. I make and store alcoholic cider in them and it keeps just fine.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:18 AM on June 7, 2021 [4 favorites]

Your local fire marshal might suggest you keep flammables in non-flammable containers, such as glass or metal.
posted by hypnogogue at 9:31 AM on June 7, 2021 [3 favorites]

If you really want HDPE containers, I recently bought these off Amazon for camping water and they're very nice. Webstaurant Store has 2.5 and 5 gallon dispensing containers.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:47 AM on June 7, 2021

Speaking as someone who works in a laboratory - we keep our bulk alcohols (methanol, ethanol, isopropanol) in a "flammables" cabinet; for under 2 gallons it might not be quite as critical, but if you've got other flammables lying around, it might be worth investing in something like this to store the supply in.
posted by aecorwin at 9:48 AM on June 7, 2021

Best answer: Glass isn't hard to get quickly: Go to your local brewery, brewing supply store, pub, or whatever, and buy 3 growlers. They are half a gallon each, so 3 of them are 196oz. Some places sell 32-oz half-growlers, but you'd need 6, so there's no benefit really to getting the latter over the former except availability, or maybe the size is more convenient for you.

Also, 5L is the standard size of the aluminum mini-keg, which can be obtained at the aforementioned brewing supply store.
posted by Sunburnt at 12:50 PM on June 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

*192oz for 3 growlers; more than you need either way.
posted by Sunburnt at 1:00 PM on June 7, 2021

I would run glass bottles with screw-on caps through a dishwasher on whatever the hottest (preferably sanitize) cycle it has. High-proof ethanol is going to keep just fine indefinitely in almost anything impermeable. Think of the people who collect 40-year-old liqueurs like Chartreuse. Put them in a cardboard wine box and they will be protected. I have hundreds of wine bottles that I've sorted, re-sorted, and moved from place to place for 20+ years and so far have only broken 1 (2?). Multiple smaller containers is better than a single 5L carboy because you don't want to put all your eggs in one basket.
posted by wnissen at 9:26 AM on June 10, 2021

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