Denatured Alcohol Removal: Was This Aimed at Shellac?

Denatured Alcohol Removal: Was This Aimed at Shellac?


I pulled out a can of denatured alcohol for a picture and realized that it says right on the label in big letters that it’s for cleaning, confirming my conclusion.

When it comes to finishing products, what happens in California doesn’t stay in California. It usually spreads across the country. So when a California friend emailed to tell me that denatured alcohol is now being removed from the consumer market, I was stunned. Denatured alcohol is critical for dissolving shellac flakes and for thinning liquid shellac to reduce brush marks and orange peel.

The regulating agencies responsible for this removal are the Air Quality Management District (AQMD) and the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD), the five counties around Los Angeles. I find their websites almost impossible to navigate and figure out what’s going on. But after some effort I came to the conclusion that it is denatured alcohol used for cleaning that is the target. Not thinning and dissolving shellac.

Think about it. If you don’t use shellac as your go-to finish, or if you do, but you don’t complete a project very often, how much denatured alcohol do you use? Think about it further. Alcoholic beverages are a much bigger market, by far, are still available. I assume that alcohol can still be added to gasoline. Bottom line: what’s the point of eliminating denatured alcohol for thinning and dissolving shellac?

My conclusion from all the information I’ve been able to find is that the ruling wasn’t aimed at shellac at all but at alcohol used as a cleaning solvent. Denatured alcohol used for dissolving and thinning shellac was just an unintended casualty.

We’re back to my solution for the pollution problem, which is responsible for taking away so many of the solvents we find useful – electric cars. The problem is that when electric cars do take over, which is not too far away, I’ll bet the regulators won’t relax these standards.



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