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Ethanol fumes set off CO/Gas Detector?!

Discussion in 'Homebrewing' started by ColForbinBC, Oct 4, 2012.

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  1. ColForbinBC

    ColForbinBC Poo-Bah (1,983) Sep 9, 2005 New Jersey
    Beer Trader

    After transferring my saison to the secondary the other night (downstairs in my basement), I was cleaning out the fermenter in the kitchen sink. The beer had a good amount of ethanol notes in the aroma, but nothing too overpowering. After rousing the yeast cake with a couple of rinses and dumping into the sink, the kitchen filled with ethanol fumes. After two quick rinses, I filled up the fermenter to the top added some oxy clean and was just about to move it from the sink when the kitchen CO/Gas detector went off. The display said alternated between "GAS" and "228" (ppm). The detector was about 8ft away from the sink. Obviously, this freaked me out, but not as much as it freaked out my wife, seeing as how we have two young children.

    I typically ferment in a storage area of my basement. My basement is 80% finished, with 20% walled off for storage. In this storage area are also my water heater and furnace.

    I am attacking this from the angle that any measurable levels of combustible gas are unacceptable.
    So, a couple of questions:
    1) Has anyone encountered this before?
    2) During fermentation, how much of this is released into the air that could potentially ignite given the somewhat close proximity (10-12ft) to two pilot lights?

    TL;DR: fumes from fermenter set off CO/Gas detector, what the fuck?
  2. Patrick

    Patrick Initiate (0) Aug 13, 2007 Massachusetts

    Are you sure you didn't smell CO2 and not ethanol? It is probably more likely you were releasing CO2 from the yeast cake/beer unless your beer was 40% abv.
  3. ColForbinBC

    ColForbinBC Poo-Bah (1,983) Sep 9, 2005 New Jersey
    Beer Trader

    CO2 is odorless. Originally, that was my assumption as well. However, this is a CO detector, I couldn't find any info of it detecting CO2 as well (just CO, radon, and natural gas). Could I have released some CO into the air (also odorless) while cleaning out the yeast? I have no idea.

    EDIT: And as far as the abv, the beer is projected to be in the 6-7% range. I didn't take a reading at transfer
  4. Patrick

    Patrick Initiate (0) Aug 13, 2007 Massachusetts

    CO2 smells acidic. Ethanol smells fruity. They should be very easy to tell apart. Have you ever taken a whiff of a fermenting beer? That burn is CO2.
  5. ColForbinBC

    ColForbinBC Poo-Bah (1,983) Sep 9, 2005 New Jersey
    Beer Trader

    Ok, but still, my detector does not detect CO2. So something else was setting off the alarm.
  6. Naugled

    Naugled Crusader (737) Sep 25, 2007 New York

    I don't think it was the beer either. I would look for another cause or get another meter, those thing do degrade and go bad.
  7. Patrick

    Patrick Initiate (0) Aug 13, 2007 Massachusetts

    So why would you think it was ethanol?
  8. NiceFly

    NiceFly Aspirant (275) Dec 22, 2011 Tajikistan

    Did you happen to fart during all of this?
  9. ColForbinBC

    ColForbinBC Poo-Bah (1,983) Sep 9, 2005 New Jersey
    Beer Trader

    Plausible, yes. I checked the stove and all other potential devices and everything seemed OK. The device is not very old, maybe about a year. However, my wife decided to do a test to see if it was in fact the beer yesterday while I was at work. She took the detector to the basement and plugged it in near the fermenter filled with oxy clean. The blow off jug and two oak spirals (in unsealed ziplock) were also in the area, and the detector went off again. That is two alarms from two separate locations from the same equipment. Can't be a rogue alarm.

    I cleaned everything up last night when I got home from work and set the alarm in the basement where all my equipment is. No alarms all night and so far today.
  10. ColForbinBC

    ColForbinBC Poo-Bah (1,983) Sep 9, 2005 New Jersey
    Beer Trader

    Because ethanol is the other byproduct of fermentation and it had that fusel alcohol smell.
  11. Patrick

    Patrick Initiate (0) Aug 13, 2007 Massachusetts

    So now you are saying oxiclean sets it off? If this is in your basement you need to get a professional in there to check the CO levels.
  12. ColForbinBC

    ColForbinBC Poo-Bah (1,983) Sep 9, 2005 New Jersey
    Beer Trader

    Ha. No, not the oxyclean. The oak spirals and blow off jug were giving off the same smell. I have used oxyclean many times in the area of the detector with no alarm.

    Sorry, if I am being confusing, but you're not following me here....
    I have three CO detectors in my house, only the one near the fumes went off.
  13. Patrick

    Patrick Initiate (0) Aug 13, 2007 Massachusetts

    The only part I don't follow is why you would think it was the beer if the alarms are going off in the part of your basement with your furnace when furnaces are known to produce CO gas.
  14. epk

    epk Initiate (145) Jun 10, 2008 New Jersey

    Because he was washing out the fermenter just as the alarm went off and then tested the alarm next to the equipment in a separate incident. It's a case of - What are the odds of those two happening at he same time?

    In other words, he doesn't know what's doing it but it could be related to the whatever was or is in his carboy.

    If there was a CO problem in the basement, wouldn't the alarm be going off without putting it near the carboy?
  15. hopfenunmaltz

    hopfenunmaltz Meyvn (1,302) Jun 8, 2005 Michigan

    If you do some reading on CO2 recovery in a brewery, you will find that part of the process is to remove the esters and alcohols from the CO2 that is captured. The liquid stuff smells very hot and funky from the high concentration of alcohol, fusels, and esters. Just saying.
  16. Patrick

    Patrick Initiate (0) Aug 13, 2007 Massachusetts

    I'd say the odds of a CO alarm going off in a confined space with a furnace are pretty high. As for the kitchen, it is weird but maybe some CO crept into the fermenter.
    I was just pointing out that it probably wasn't ethanol because this is beer not grain alcohol.
  17. epk

    epk Initiate (145) Jun 10, 2008 New Jersey

    I actually agree with you that it's not ethanol.

    I think it's the oxyclean combined with a sensitive damn alarm. Oxyclean contains hydrogen peroxide. I read that certain sensors can pick bleach (hydrogen peroxide).

    Side note - steam from my damn shower sets off my fire alarm with a paced chirp. I know it's not a CO alarm, but still. annoying.
  18. Patrick

    Patrick Initiate (0) Aug 13, 2007 Massachusetts

    My fire alarm does the same thing, but isn't bleach a chlorinated compound

    Edit: bleach is both chlorinated and non-chlorinated.
  19. epk

    epk Initiate (145) Jun 10, 2008 New Jersey

    Bleaching agents can be based on peroxides as well without chlorine and OxiClean is considered a bleach product. I'm not going to pretend to be a chemistry expert though - everything I just said, I got form the interwebz. But I do see your underlying point, chlorine-based bleach being the more volatile. Regardless, hydrogen peroxide can still bleach your hair, so it certainly has some potency, maybe it can set off an alarm too.

    Though ethanol is volatile in it's own right, flammable obviously, I just don't think that beer has enough in it. Maybe fumes from the dumping in the kitchen, but from a blow off tube?? I'm skeptical.

    He should still look into the possibility of CO though - that's no joke.
  20. ColForbinBC

    ColForbinBC Poo-Bah (1,983) Sep 9, 2005 New Jersey
    Beer Trader

    I honestly do not know if it was the ethanol, I was just assuming based on it not being the CO2, due to the type of detector. I know we do not have a CO problem, my wife asked a family member to come over today with a reader and we were fine. That is interesting about the oxyclean potentially causing this.
  21. ColForbinBC

    ColForbinBC Poo-Bah (1,983) Sep 9, 2005 New Jersey
    Beer Trader

    Actually, it can't be CO because the detector read "GAS" not "CO." There are different alarms for each. So it had to be a flammable gas of some kind.
  22. skivtjerry

    skivtjerry Zealot (524) Mar 10, 2006 Vermont

    That's a new one on me. Maybe a very sensitive or out of sorts detector could react to ethanol or CO2 but I've never heard of this. Any sulfury aromas in your beer/yeast? Maybe the gas detector reacts to mercaptans and related compounds. Pure speculation... in any case there is no fire danger from your brewing.
  23. Patrick

    Patrick Initiate (0) Aug 13, 2007 Massachusetts

    Could be oxygen forming from the peroxide in oxiclean?
  24. leedorham

    leedorham Crusader (701) Apr 27, 2006 Washington

    You're gonna get sploded for sure.
    AlCaponeJunior and ColForbinBC like this.
  25. VikeMan

    VikeMan Meyvn (1,337) Jul 12, 2009 Pennsylvania
    Beer Trader

    Ethanol does not smell fruity. Perhaps you're thinking of esters or acetaldehyde.

    Ethanol and fusel alcohols are not the same thing.
  26. billandsuz

    billandsuz Disciple (308) Sep 1, 2004 New York

    i will bet that you threw off the oxygen concentration enough to trip a fault in the machine. it is probable that the computer will set off the alarm because of a sudden and abrupt change to expected air concentrations.

    so if you increase CO2 concentrations a few % and displace O suddenly, that is enough to make it go off. my detectors sometimes go off for no good reason.

    remember that these home meters cost about $40 and do a fine job. a gas specific meter can cost from maybe $700 into the thousands. the home units just aren't very robust, and they are likely designed to be conservative.
    that is my guess.

    btw, the concentration of CO2 in air can easily be a health haard not vented. put your fermenter in a closet and it will displace nearly all of the air. and you can't breathe without air. i have opened the door and stuck my head in. a brief and unusual experience to suddenly not have any breathing air.

  27. Patrick

    Patrick Initiate (0) Aug 13, 2007 Massachusetts

    Yes it does.
  28. skivtjerry

    skivtjerry Zealot (524) Mar 10, 2006 Vermont

    I was in a local brewery that has a big room full of open fermenters; the brewer said that if the ventilation fans go out for 5 minutes, they have to stay out of the room. A typical homebrew fermentation will produce 50-150 cubic feet of CO2 over the life of the fermentation, probably not dangerous unless you have some very tight space. I suppose a well sealed closet could do it, so don't sleep with your fermenters:slight_smile:
  29. AlCaponeJunior

    AlCaponeJunior Initiate (0) May 21, 2010 Texas

    "sploded" :rolling_eyes:

    Word of the day!

    Honestly I don't think it's possible to brew a beer that's strong enough to splode anything.

    However, oxyclean, bleach, or other household chemicals could potentially set off an alarm, especially if said alarm was very sensitive but not very specific. I would agree that it's likely that CO2 concentrations suddenly rising are the culprit. I know I've opened a fermentation vessel and had a huge whiff of some seriously pungent air from within, I can only assume that it's CO2 mixed with hop aromas that are that powerful. I could see it setting off a fire alarm, especially one that's calibrated to detect sudden rises in CO2 (as well as CO and whatever else).

    So basically, aliens are about to take over your house. :astonished: Take your family and run for the hills. But fedex me all your homebrew and all the beer in the fridge/cellar before you leave. Hurry! There's no time to lose! :grinning:
  30. NiceFly

    NiceFly Aspirant (275) Dec 22, 2011 Tajikistan

    fermenter fornication ftw:grimacing:
  31. memory

    memory Initiate (0) Oct 2, 2005 Pennsylvania

    Maybe when liquid was poured into the sink, their was some funky gas that the sink trap released. Also, did you check your pants?
    Naugled likes this.
  32. mudbug

    mudbug Zealot (599) Mar 27, 2009 Oregon

    This obviously requires further testing. Here is what I recommend, put the offending CO alarm in a large plastic bag then breath into it, you can take inhales from out of the bag, but exhale only into the bag. This tests the theory that rising CO2 levels displaced the measurable level of O2 enough to put the sensor out of it's parameters.
    Let us know if it works.
  33. VikeMan

    VikeMan Meyvn (1,337) Jul 12, 2009 Pennsylvania
    Beer Trader

    Ever smell Everclear? Or even unflavored Vodka? Do they smell fruity to you?
  34. Patrick

    Patrick Initiate (0) Aug 13, 2007 Massachusetts

    You missed the point I was trying to make, but now are trying to argue about this. OK.

    The OP said his kitchen filled with ethanol fumes, and I don't think that was possible as it would take a ton of ethanol to fill a room which his beer does not have. As for CO2, I think it would be very possible to fill the room with stinky and burny smelling gas from a yeast cake and some left over beer. The two smell very different from each other is my main point. Pure ethanol vapors smell fruity to me, I'm OK with that.
  35. VikeMan

    VikeMan Meyvn (1,337) Jul 12, 2009 Pennsylvania
    Beer Trader

    I didn't miss anything. I was simply challenging an incorrect statement. People actually read this stuff, and if they don't know any better, they may believe it.
  36. Patrick

    Patrick Initiate (0) Aug 13, 2007 Massachusetts

    I guess my nose is lying to me, that fucker.
    good_gracious likes this.
  37. WickedSluggy

    WickedSluggy Devotee (400) Nov 21, 2008 Texas
    Beer Trader

    I think alcohol (ethanol) can have a sweet smell that someone could interpret as fruity at times. It depends on the concentration and how it interacts with other substances that may be present. I don't think sticking your nose up to a bottle of everclear is going to smell fruity, but I don't think fusels, aldehydes or ketones would be interpreted as fruity if you sniffed the reagent pure chemical right from a vial.
  38. VikeMan

    VikeMan Meyvn (1,337) Jul 12, 2009 Pennsylvania
    Beer Trader

    I would encourage anyone to dilute everclear or unflavored vodka with water to whatever concentration they want and sniff away. (Between the two, undiluted, we already have 40% and 95%.) I will do this myself the next time I have vodka in the house.

    Regarding the interaction with other substances, if you mean compounds resulting from a reaction between ethanol and something else, then the result would not be ethanol. If you mean that substance X smelled at the same time as ethanol can result in an aggregate fruity smell, without substance X being fruity smelling on its own, that's an interesting theory. Anyone chemists out there know?
  39. WickedSluggy

    WickedSluggy Devotee (400) Nov 21, 2008 Texas
    Beer Trader

    When talking about the interaction of ethanol and other substances, I'm not rerferring to reaction between ethanol and something else. I'm referring to effect on sensation and perception when two substances are present simultaneously. Alcohol is often said to have a sweet smell. Sweetness is unarguably a component of fruity smells. So if you have, say a ketone or ecetate, along with ethanol, you might expect it to be described as fruity even if alcohol is the main constituent.

    Also, I can tell you with certainty that many chemicals have very different perceptual (odor) characteristics at different concentrations in the air. I am not saying that alcohol will be perceived as "fruity" by you at any concentration. We are getting a little too scientific, I think, about a perceprtual description, "fruity". Fun discussion though.
  40. CaptChaos

    CaptChaos Initiate (112) Nov 5, 2010 Massachusetts

    I was just steaming clams in a ton of sake, and my gas alarm went off too. Tons of vapors. The tester is fine, etc, so maybe the booze fumes can set it off....
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