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Acetone vs. Ethanol: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Published on January 30, 2024
Acetone is a volatile, flammable solvent with a distinctive odor, used in industry and nail polish removers, whereas ethanol is a common alcohol found in beverages and used as a biofuel.

Key Differences

Acetone, a colorless, volatile liquid, is known for its strong, distinct smell and is a common solvent in various industrial applications. Ethanol, also a colorless liquid, is chiefly known as the type of alcohol found in alcoholic beverages and is widely used as a biofuel.
In terms of chemical structure, acetone is the simplest ketone, characterized by a carbonyl group flanked by two methyl groups. Ethanol, on the other hand, is an alcohol, with its molecule featuring a hydroxyl group attached to a carbon atom.
Acetone is renowned for its excellent solvent properties, effectively dissolving plastics, synthetic fibers, and other substances, making it invaluable in industrial and cosmetic applications. Ethanol also serves as a solvent but is more widely recognized for its role in beverages and as an additive in gasoline.
The production of acetone is primarily through the cumene process in the petrochemical industry, reflecting its synthetic origin. Ethanol is commonly produced through fermentation, utilizing natural processes involving yeast and sugars, indicating its biological origin.
In terms of safety and environmental impact, acetone is more volatile and poses greater risks in terms of flammability and toxicity compared to ethanol. Ethanol, while also flammable, is generally considered safer and is often touted for its renewable nature when derived from biomass.

Comparison Chart

Chemical Classification

Simplest ketone

Common Use

Industrial solvent, nail polish remover
Alcoholic beverages, biofuel


Strong, distinctive
Mild, characteristic of alcoholic drinks

Production Method

Mostly synthetic (cumene process)
Biological (fermentation)

Environmental Impact

More volatile, higher toxicity
Renewable, lower toxicity

Acetone and Ethanol Definitions


A colorless, volatile liquid solvent.
The laboratory used acetone to clean glassware.


Colorless liquid with a characteristic odor.
The distinct smell of ethanol was evident in the distillery.


Key component in nail polish removers.
She used acetone-based remover to clean her nails.


A type of alcohol found in alcoholic beverages.
Ethanol is the intoxicating agent in beer and wine.


The simplest form of ketone.
Acetone's structure as a ketone makes it an effective solvent.


Produced through fermentation processes.
Ethanol in beer is the result of yeast fermenting sugars.


Produced predominantly via the cumene process.
The factory produces acetone through the cumene process.


Less toxic and more renewable than acetone.
Ethanol is favored for its environmental friendliness.


Widely used in industrial applications.
Acetone is essential in manufacturing various plastics.


Used as a biofuel and gasoline additive.
Ethanol is blended with gasoline to reduce emissions.


A colorless, volatile, extremely flammable liquid ketone, C3H6O, widely used as an organic solvent. It is one of the ketone bodies that accumulate in the blood and urine when fat is being metabolized.


See alcohol.


(organic compound) A colourless, volatile, flammable liquid ketone, (CH3)2CO, used as a solvent.


(organic compound) A simple aliphatic alcohol formally derived from ethane by replacing one hydrogen atom with a hydroxyl group: CH3-CH2-OH.


A volatile liquid consisting of three parts of carbon, six of hydrogen, and one of oxygen; pyroacetic spirit, - obtained by the distillation of certain acetates, or by the destructive distillation of citric acid, starch, sugar, or gum, with quicklime.


Specifically, this alcohol as a fuel.


The simplest ketone; a highly inflammable liquid widely used as an organic solvent and as material for making plastics


The organic compound C2H5.OH, the common alcohol which is the intoxicating agent in beer, wine, and other fermented and distilled liquors; called also ethyl alcohol. It is used pure or denatured as a solvent or in medicines and colognes and cleaning solutions, or mixed in gasoline as a fuel for automobiles, and as a rocket fuel (as in the V-2 rocket).


The intoxicating agent in fermented and distilled liquors; used pure or denatured as a solvent or in medicines and colognes and cleaning solutions and rocket fuel; proposed as a renewable clean-burning additive to gasoline


Can ethanol be used in beverages?

Yes, ethanol is the alcohol found in beverages.

How does ethanol act as a biofuel?

Ethanol is used as a renewable fuel source, often blended with gasoline.

Is acetone more toxic than ethanol?

Generally, acetone is considered more toxic.

What is the main difference in the smell of acetone and ethanol?

Acetone has a strong, distinct odor, while ethanol's odor is milder.

Is acetone a ketone or alcohol?

Acetone is a ketone.

Is acetone flammable?

Yes, acetone is highly flammable.

What is acetone used for?

Acetone is used as a solvent in industries and in nail polish removers.

Are both acetone and ethanol colorless?

Yes, both are colorless liquids.

Is acetone environmentally friendly?

Acetone is less environmentally friendly compared to ethanol.

How is ethanol produced?

Ethanol is produced through the fermentation of sugars by yeast.

What is the primary source for ethanol production?

Sugarcane, corn, and other sugary or starchy plants.

Can ethanol be made synthetically?

Yes, but it is commonly produced biologically.

What's the role of ethanol in alcoholic drinks?

Ethanol provides the intoxicating effects in alcoholic beverages.

Can acetone dissolve plastics?

Yes, acetone can dissolve certain plastics.

Is ethanol a good solvent?

Ethanol is a decent solvent but is more famous as a beverage alcohol.

Is acetone naturally occurring?

Acetone can occur naturally but is mostly manufactured.

Can ethanol be used in medical applications?

Yes, as an antiseptic and disinfectant.

What industries use acetone?

Acetone is used in the beauty, plastics, and pharmaceutical industries.

Are both acetone and ethanol used in laboratories?

Yes, both are used in labs, but for different purposes.

How is ethanol safer than acetone?

Ethanol is less volatile and toxic.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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