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Difference Between Alcohol and Phenol

What are Alcohol and Phenol?

Formation of alcohols and phenols result when hydrogen atom in a hydrocarbon, aromatic and aliphatic compounds respectively, is replaced by -OH group. Alcohols and phenols have much higher boiling points as compared to similar alkanes and alkyl halides. Alcohols and phenols, like water, can form hydrogen bonds. Phenol also belongs to the alcohol family and are alcohols with aromatic rings.


What is Alcohol?

It is a colourless and volatile flammable liquid generated by the natural fermentation of sugars and is an intoxicating ingredient of wine, whisky, beer, spirits, and other drinks. Alcohol is an organic compound whose molecule contains 1 or more hydroxyl groups fastened to a carbon atom. It is also used as an industrial solvent and as a fuel. The most common industrial alcohol is Methanol.


What is Phenol?

Phenol is a toxic white crystalline solid acquired from coal tar and is used in chemical manufacturing industry. It is also used as a disinfectant. Phenol is an organic compound with a hydroxyl group linked directly to a benzene ring.


Difference between Alcohol and Phenol

  1. Definition


Alcohol is also known as ethanol. It is any organic compound in which the hydroxyl functional group (–OH) is bound to a carbon.


It is an aromatic hydrocarbon and a white crystalline solid which is flammable and has a strong odour. Its molecular formula is C6H5OH. Phenol, is characterized by a (−OH) hydroxyl group attached to a carbon atom that is part of an aromatic ring.

  1. Nature


Alcohols are aliphatic hydrocarbons i.e. the carbon compounds are linked to each other in a straight chain.


Phenols are aromatic hydrocarbons i.e. the carbon compounds are connected to each other in ring structure way with conjugated pi electrons.

  1. Applications


Alcohol is used in alcoholic beverages like wine, whisky and beer. It is utilized to produce methylated spirit (meth) which is used as a combustible material in certain stoves and lamps, especially the ones made for camping. It is also used to get rid of ink from non-porous surfaces for e.g. metals and plastics. Methylated spirit is used as a cleaning agent, especially for glass cleaning purposes.

Rubbing alcohol can also be used in cleaning certain instruments and vessels present in the first aid kit, and it efficiently cleans minor wounds, cuts and scrapes. Alcohol is also used as a fuel which is much more efficient than natural fossil fuels like petrol.


Phenol is used as an antiseptic. It is also an active ingredient in some oral analgesics like Chlora-septic spray, Carmex and TCP. These analgesics are utilized to temporarily treat pharyngitis.  Phenol is industrial component in paint strippers used in the aviation industry for the eradication of epoxy and other chemically resistant coatings.

Phenol derivatives are also used in forming cosmetics like sunscreens, hair colorings, and skin lightening ointments.

  1. Types


Vodka, Vermouth, Whiskey, Gin, Brandy, Cognac, Beer, Port wine and Rum.


Benzene, Phenol Formaldehyde, Toluene, Polyphenol, Cyclohexanol, Aniline, Nitrophenol, Gallic Acid, Ferulic acid, Catechol, Anisole,

  1. Reaction with Bromine water


Alcohols show no reaction with bromine water.


Phenols produce white precipitate with bromine water of 2,4,6-tribromophenol.

  1. FeCl3 test


Alcohols show no reaction with neutral FeCl3

ROH   + FeCl3 ——- No Colour


Phenol gives violet colour when reacts with neutral FeCl3.

3C6H5OH    +     FeCl3   ——- (C6H5O)3     +       3HCl

Violet Colour

  1. Coupling Reaction Test


Alcohols do not show any reaction by coupling with arene diazonium salts.


Phenols form yellow – orange coloured azo-dyes by coupling with arene diazonium salts.

  1. Reaction with NaOH


Alcohols show no reaction with aqueous NaOH.


Phenols react with aqueous NaOH and produce phenoxide ion (C6H5O).

  1. Litmus paper test


Alcohols show no impact on litmus paper. They are neutral


Phenol changes litmus paper red. Phenols are acidic in nature.

  1. Colour


Lower alcohols are colourless liquids.


Phenols are colourless crystalline deliquescent solids.


Summary of Alcohol and Phenol: Comparison Chart

The points of difference between Alcohol and Phenol have been summarized below:


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References :

[0]Dias De Oliveira, M. E., Vaughan, B. E., & Rykiel, E. J. (2005). Ethanol as fuel: energy, carbon dioxide balances, and ecological footprint. AIBS Bulletin, 55(7), 593-602.

[1]Gami, A. A. (2014). Phenol and its toxicity. Journal of Environmental Microbiology and Toxicology, 2(1).

[2]Kala, H. K., Mehta, R., Tandey, R., Sen, K. K., & Mandal, V. (2016). Ten years of research on phenolics (2005–2015): a status report. Pacific Science Review A: Natural Science and Engineering, 18(1), 1-4.

[3]Taft, R. W., Koppel, I. A., Topsom, R. D., & Anvia, F. (1990). Acidities of OH compounds, including alcohols, phenol, carboxylic acids, and mineral acids. Journal of the American Chemical Society, 112(6), 2047-2052.

[4]Image credit: https://pixabay.com/en/alcohol-gel-hygiene-disinfect-clean-818256/

[5]Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/internetarchivebookimages/20411314765

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