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Author: Subject: Does methanol smell like anything to you?
p4rtridg3
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[*] posted on 12-11-2020 at 07:25
Does methanol smell like anything to you?


Hello all,
I was distilling HEET today when I got suspicious about my ability to smell methanol. I've always heard it has an alcoholic odor, but when a joint popped, I smelled nothing. When I transferred the product to a glass bottle, nothing. I asked my dad to smell the stopper to a flask containing it, and although he said it had a strong smell, I could not detect anything at all.

Thinking back to the many times I've used it in the lab, I don't remember methanol having any kind of distinctive odor.

I can smell everything else just fine. I tested my nose against ethanol, as well as various items from my fridge. Everything seems normal.

Thoughts? Two people have told me so far that they've never noticed a smell, while everyone else swears it is quite distinct. Is this normal? Abnormal? A bad sign? (overexposure maybe?) I am a little concerned that since I can't seem to smell it, a toxic amount could build up and I'd never know.

I would very much appreciate your input.
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[*] posted on 12-11-2020 at 07:29


To me 96-98% methanol smelled just a little bit more intensely than ethanol. I suppose it's due to it's volatality. Maybe you just have COVID! I actually found out I was sick when I sticked my nose into a bottle with ammonia solution and didn't smell much.
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[*] posted on 12-11-2020 at 07:48
Methanol


I don't know exactly what MeOH smells
like but I can tell you what it resembles.
To me it smells almost like blackberry
brandy. Guess my nose is a little more
sensitive.




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Tsjerk
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[*] posted on 12-11-2020 at 07:49


I can't smell methanol, I wouldn't even be able to differentiate water and methanol by smell.
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EthidiumBromide
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[*] posted on 12-11-2020 at 08:06


To me the smell of methanol is much fainter than ethanol. I personally don't pick up any odor when I work with it. I carefully smelled it straight from the bottle just now (I didn't inhale it profusely, relax) and I mostly got just the generic burning sensation at the bottom of my nostrils, which all volatile alcohols give. Ethanol and isopropanol by contrast have a much sharper smell that I can instantly notice.
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[*] posted on 12-11-2020 at 08:20


there is very big variability in smelling compounds among people, hundreds of genes involved and hundreds of receptors...
isovaleric acid is typical example (sweat, unwashed socks etc) for which 6% of people do not scent it at all
androstenone we tried at university which 2/3 of us scented and 1/3 didn't
https://www.sciencemadness.org/whisper/viewthread.php?tid=15...
https://genomebiology.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/gb-...




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Fyndium
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[*] posted on 12-11-2020 at 08:51


Ethanol and methanol have much similarities but they are a tad different. I don't remember smelling anything neither when I handled methanol, albeit being few hundred mL at most, but I have got used to that ethanol has pretty mild odor, and it can also be that people handle methanol more carefully because of it's higher toxicity. IPA has very disagreeable pungent odor, a profile like acetone but less sweet and more sharp and pungent.
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teodor
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[*] posted on 12-11-2020 at 10:09


Thank you for letting me know, @p4rtridg3. I also never felt any smell working with methanol but I also never tried knowing it is poisonous. And I thought it has the same kind of smell as ethanol. After your question I did several sniff of the stopper and I didn't feel ANY alcoholic smell, just a tint of ethereal smell but not when the stopper close to my nose. When it is close to my nose I don't feel anything. Ethanol has a strong smell for me and not the ethereal one as well as other alcohols with 2-5 carbons.

[Edited on 12-11-2020 by teodor]
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[*] posted on 12-11-2020 at 11:26


Yeah methanol has much weaker smell than ethanol. I think it's quite understandable that, the shorter the chain, the weaker the smell is (of course to some point).
isopropanol > ethanol > methanol, by smell.
For me it smells like more "mild" ethanol although I have never taken a lungfull, because I don't want to unnecessarily expose myself to methanol.

Quote: Originally posted by ArbuzToWoda  
To me 96-98% methanol smelled just a little bit more intensely than ethanol. I suppose it's due to it's volatality. Maybe you just have COVID! I actually found out I was sick when I sticked my nose into a bottle with ammonia solution and didn't smell much.

Well that's interesting, I would never say that methanol has stronger smell than ethanol.
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[*] posted on 12-11-2020 at 12:28


Methanol has no odor to me, but I can smell methanal quite well. It has a slightly sweet odor to it. Ethanol is the same way. If it’s a fresh bottle of pure ethanol it has no odor to me. If it’s an older bottle that has some air in it then it has a sweet smell of dilute ethanal.

Maybe some of the variability in odor has to do with different people smelling different alcohol samples at various stages of partial oxidation?




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Tsjerk
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[*] posted on 12-11-2020 at 13:58


Very pure freshly opened ethanol has quite a strong smell to me, alcoholic and sweet. IPA is a bit more sharp, more solvent like. As said methanol doesn't have any odor to me, the same bottle smells really bad to my girlfriend, she has the same experience at work. She thinks it smells stronger than ethanol.

Methanal almost makes me puke, it is horrible in my opinion. So I don't think these differences in perception are because of differences in sample.

Tetramethyl acetyloctahydronaphtalene smells terrible to me, while it is commonly perceived as pleasant, as it is used in air fresheners. I think it smells like a wet barn animal that has been standing inside all winter. I once found this is also something genetic found in 0.1% of the population.
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[*] posted on 12-11-2020 at 14:13


I'm not sure if I should be happy that solvents don't smell very strongly to me, or be worried that they don't. I clean up the lab benches with vinegar sometimes and other lab-mates find the odor to be completely intolerable and have to leave the room. I can smell it, but it's a fairly pleasant odor to me.

I do know what wet, stale, barn animals smell like, and I'll have to say that's one thing I can smell pretty well and it's nasty...




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[*] posted on 12-11-2020 at 14:18


I think the easier you smell stuff the better. You can quickly notice if something's up - or wrong. I have faced the issue with my neighbors who have complained once about "smell" and I took that very seriously. I always keep my workspace in negative pressure to keep any smells inside.

Acetic acid smells very sharp. Formic acid is intolerable to me.
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[*] posted on 12-11-2020 at 15:07


MeOH smells actually only really to me, when hot.
And even then just like a much weaker ethanolic smell, with much less individually noticeable odour notes.
Almost ethereal, I mean like aether, not R-O-R.

Cold? Maybe once in a while I can get a tiny hint from it, but normally I don't notice anything.
But it has a smell, I just have to get close to notice.

But how is it for you guys with pure DMF or DMSO?
They have to me a just barely noticeable smell of their own as well.
Everyone just thinks of dimethylamine or dimethylsulfide with these two, but in their pure state they have a likewise very faint smell as MeOH does too.
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[*] posted on 12-11-2020 at 15:24


MeOH smells sweet to me, EtOH just smells like burning solvent.



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Fulmen
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[*] posted on 12-11-2020 at 23:57


I've always found that MeOH (pure stuff like P.A) has a faint earthy or mold-like smell. it doesn't have the same "punch" as EtOH has though, kinda peculiar considering the similarities...



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[*] posted on 13-11-2020 at 03:13


I have realised that I can feel methanol only once, when I start to sniff. The smell is quite different from ethanol. It could be strong if the quantity is high. But after the first feeling of smell it disappears. Like people say the same about H2S. So, probably methanol turn-offs my receptors very quickly doesn't matter how strong the smell is, I just can notice it only in the beginning.
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[*] posted on 13-11-2020 at 05:44


To me it has no odor unless I bury my nose in the vapor, in which case it has a sort of "clean" smell not far removed from ethanol, and a slight tingly sensation in the nose.

[Edited on 11-13-2020 by Amos]
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[*] posted on 13-11-2020 at 06:16


To me, methanol has a weak odour, likethat of ethanol, but not nearly as strong, and definitely distinct.

On a related note, I seem to be "smell blind" to acetonitrile. My colleagues would complain about the smell when i was sloshing it round in the lab.
On the other hand, I can smell the related chemical, hydrogen cyanide at fairly low concentrations.
Does anyone else have experience of these two chemicals?
(Don't go sniffing cyanide just to answer an online question, but if you happen to know...)
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[*] posted on 13-11-2020 at 06:34


I can smell cyanide ion in very low concentrations, like if few ml of ferric/ferrous hexacyannoferrate solution goes to slightly acidic pH and I am at the same room.

[Edited on 13-11-2020 by teodor]
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[*] posted on 13-11-2020 at 07:02


Methanol only has a faint smell to me, while ethanol has a distinct clear smell to me, but still not very strong. Higher alcohols are much more smelly to me.

I believe that I cannot smell HCN. I have done some experimenting with HCN and even wafted some towards my face, but I did not smell anything, while a similar waft of Cl2 or SO2 leads to a strong overpowering experience of smell.

CH3CN has an etherial not unpleasant smell to me, not particularly strong or overpowering.



[Edited on 13-11-20 by woelen]




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karlos³
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[*] posted on 13-11-2020 at 08:28


Quote: Originally posted by unionised  

On a related note, I seem to be "smell blind" to acetonitrile. My colleagues would complain about the smell when i was sloshing it round in the lab.
On the other hand, I can smell the related chemical, hydrogen cyanide at fairly low concentrations.
Does anyone else have experience of these two chemicals?
(Don't go sniffing cyanide just to answer an online question, but if you happen to know...)

What, how could anyone complain about the smell of acetonitrile? It barely smells at all, even refluxing!

Oh.... wait... :D
Guess I share that ability, or lack thereof, because I never had any issues with acetonitrile and smell, I actually like it because it is has so little smell.
At work I never heard complains about it either.
Maybe its some sort of chemotype in humans, and you just happen to have some who are of a different one?

As for HCN, my experience with it is limited but I can smell it too.
I couldn't characterise it though from that little bit(and years ago), just a sharp and pungent smell which I would liken to formic acid maybe(only maybe).
But I haven't experienced anything else, only noticed the smell, a bit of it, and then backed off the apparatus outside.
And then haven't smelled it anymore, if it was from its effects, or from gaining some distance, I can't tell.
No idea if I am particularly sensitive to it.

But I can confirm that acetonitrile apparently has only very little smell to me, I am actually really surprised about your statement of colleagues who complain about it :o
I can't even describe the smell of MeCN very well, but I would agree on woelen's description.
Smell blind, well, not really(and I don't think you can't smell it at all either), but apparently we have similar working smell receptors.
Unlike woelen it seems?

That is really interesting, I wouldn't have thought that the discrepancies in the perception of solvent smells could be that much.

Back on the topic, I used a few ml's of MeOH today, to spread out a drying substance, or rather, while evaporating a solution of, to prevent the forming of a evaporation hindering skin.
I probably breathed some more in while it evaporated, and thinking of this thread was trying to characterise its smell, and its just a few hours ago and I barely can take ahold of it now.
Thats what I meant with aether like(not ether), its just not very strong smelling at all.
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[*] posted on 13-11-2020 at 13:56


To myself, MeOH has a odor similar to EtOH, but MeOH is more smooth. There are some "sweet" smells there as well, but the smell is more floral than it is "sugar-ish". I think a good analogy would be MeOH compares to EtOH as EtOH compares to iPrOH.

From experience, I know I cannot smell HCN.

I do not like the smell of MeCN very much. It has a sickly, chemical smell which makes me somewhat nauseous to be around.

One of my favorite solvent smells (if that is such a thing) are the ethers and acetone (Don't read into that too much).

One of the most eye-opening nose-blind situations that I have been in was when I was working with chlorinated phenol compounds. I can definitely smell them (a smell reminiscent of benzyl chloride and creosote) but after 2 weeks of working with the compounds one my collages got back from vacation and came over to my lab to see how my reactions were going. I could see the familiar cringe of smelling poly-chlorinated phenols; however, what was concerning was that the reactants were in the fumehood and I could hardly detect any ClPhOH. It was at that point I didcided that I didn't want to work with those compounds anymore. :o




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[*] posted on 13-11-2020 at 23:29


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[*] posted on 14-11-2020 at 00:41


I have not worked with methanol cos I'm scared of it ... is it very poisonous via inhalation and skin contact?

I hate the smell of MEK and metabisufite, esp the later, it smells so different from burning sulfur ...

[Edited on 14-11-2020 by artemov]
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