Denatonium/Bitrex (Mmm...less-toxic denatured alcohol)

Denatonium, sold as Bitrex, is among the most bitter compounds in the world. Why in the world would industry seek out such a thing? To put in things we don't want you to eat, silly.


I think it was developed to denature nonbeverage alcohol (to avoid having to pay alcohol tax, booze not intended for your mouth is made toxic or disgusting; Bitrex does mostly the latter), but it finds its way into loads of stuff (including, puzzlingly, hygeine products - most of which probably taste pretty bad on their own, no?). My favorite use for it is anti-nail biting polish. It takes a certain dedication to tackle a relatively minor problem by making your fingers taste terrible (and certainly ruining your ability to enjoy such gustatory delights as buffalo wings dripping with bleu cheese sauce along the way). Godspeed, bitter-fingered heroes.


More like this

Is is odd for this compound to be a benzoic acid salt? I don't think I've noticed one of those before.

There's got to be some interest amongst modern-day bootleggers for an easy way to crack the denaturing. Maybe run the ethanol through a cation exchange resin to leave the (presumably) less noxious sodium/potassium/etc. benzoate behind (if it's even soluble to any extent in ethanol?

Though I guess distillation would be just as easy w/o the usual methanol or benzene denaturants to azeotrope/codistill.

I think my mom used this on me when I was younger to stop bad habits... I just bit the bullet, so to speak.

I had a friend whose father bit his nails when he was growing up. They tried some kind of foul-tasting substance, but apparently he developed a taste for it. Best-laid plans . . .

Yes. Denatonium benzoate does taste awful. But the taste in nail polish is nothing compared to the taste in it's pure form. Ouch! Anyway, if you have any technical questions you need answered about denatonium benzoate, I'll open up my technical team for you. You can ask them at RC Pharmachem. Just let them know you're from Scienceblogs.

Apparently, there exist other salts of denatonium, like denatonium chloride and denatonium saccharide.

What would be the differences of those salts w.r.t. denatonium benzoate?

I just used a denatured ethanol spray containing about 70% EtOH with denatonium benzoate added (the last ingredient on the label). I licked one of my fingers afterwards and WOW! That is really bitter. I didn't even notice any of the spray getting on me, but I could still taste it. The straight stuff must be amazingly nasty.

I developed a taste for the stuff when I was a kid. It was in something designed to stop me from sucking my thumb. I ended up drinking the stuff (it was non toxic)so my parents stopped buying it. The other day I found that "less toxic denatured alcohol" (95% anhydrous ethanol, 5% H2O + bitrex)
Against beter judgement, or not, I decided to see it I still had the tollerance and put a drop on my tongue. Apparently the tollerance stays with you because all I got was a faint taste of quinine from it. I assume, watered dovn to 25% alc/vol, it would be about the same as a vodka tonic. I'll let you know if it doesnt.

I am looking for anyone who has experience with Denatonium. Where can I get a sample? What could I put with it to make it liquid? Could I use Water? If so, what would the parts be? I have been searching for a couple months now and I can't seem to find anyone that has a lot of info about this stuff. I tried contacting RC Pharmachem, but I think they are out of business or something. NO Reply.

Any info is greatly appreciated!
Thanks in Advance

@ bgr: According to Wikipedia, it doesn't even melt until it reaches 163-170 °C, so I'd assume distillation would be no problem.

Funny thing is, some companies (Shoppers Drug Mart, for instance) sell both ethanol and iso as rubbing alcohol. The ethanol has denatonium added IIRC, but I can't find any reference to it on the iso bottle I have in my bathroom. You'd think something that could be potentially lethal should be a higher priority... but doubtless it's because EtOH is the only thing they're required by law to spike, so that's all they do.