Difference Between Alcohol and Phenol

Alcohol and phenol are both organic compounds that contain hydroxyl groups (-OH). While both have some similarities, they also have some key differences that set them apart. In this essay, we will explore the differences between alcohol and phenol, including their chemical properties, physical properties, and uses.

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.

Differences: Alcohol and Phenol

Let us now compare and contrast the properties of Alcohol and Phenol −

Chemical Properties

One of the main differences between alcohol and phenol is their chemical structure. Alcohol has a hydroxyl group (-OH) attached to a saturated carbon atom, while phenol has a hydroxyl group attached to an aromatic ring. This structural difference gives phenol some unique chemical properties that are not seen in alcohol.

One of the most significant differences between alcohol and phenol is their acidity. Phenol is a much stronger acid than alcohol because the hydroxyl group in phenol is attached to an aromatic ring, which stabilizes the negative charge on the oxygen atom when it loses a proton. This stability makes it easier for phenol to donate a proton, and therefore it has a lower pKa value (around 10) than most alcohols (around 16-18).

Another important chemical property of phenol is its reactivity towards electrophiles. The aromatic ring in phenol can undergo electrophilic substitution reactions, where an electrophile (an electron-deficient species) replaces one of the hydrogen atoms on the ring. This reactivity makes phenol useful in organic synthesis, as it can be used to introduce functional groups onto an aromatic ring.

Physical Properties

While both alcohol and phenol contain hydroxyl groups, they have different physical properties due to their different chemical structures. For example, phenol is a solid at room temperature, while most alcohols are liquids. This is because the aromatic ring in phenol allows for strong intermolecular interactions (such as hydrogen bonding) between molecules, which leads to a higher melting point and greater stability in the solid state.

Another difference in physical properties is their solubility in water. Small alcohols (such as methanol and ethanol) are highly soluble in water due to their ability to form hydrogen bonds with water molecules. However, as the size of the alcohol molecule increases, solubility decreases. Phenol, on the other hand, is moderately soluble in water due to its ability to form hydrogen bonds with water molecules, as well as some pi-stacking interactions between the aromatic rings.

Uses of Alcohol and Phenol

Both alcohol and phenol have a wide range of uses in industry, medicine, and everyday life. Ethanol (a type of alcohol) is commonly used as a solvent, fuel, and disinfectant, while methanol is used as an industrial solvent and in the production of formaldehyde. Isopropyl alcohol is a common disinfectant, and glycerol (a type of alcohol with three hydroxyl groups) is used in the production of soap, cosmetics, and food products.

Phenol is also used in a variety of applications, such as in the production of plastics, detergents, and pharmaceuticals. It is also used as a disinfectant and in the production of resins and adhesives. Phenol's strong acidity and reactivity also make it useful in organic synthesis, where it can be used as a starting material for a variety of reactions.

The following table highlights the major differences between Alcohol and Phenol −





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.


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.


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.

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.


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.


In summary, alcohol and phenol are two organic compounds that contain hydroxyl groups. While they share some similarities, such as their ability to form hydrogen bonds with water, they also have some key differences in their chemical and physical properties.

Phenol's aromatic ring gives it unique reactivity and acidity compared to alcohol, while alcohol's relatively small size and lack of aromaticity make it more soluble in water and less reactive towards electrophiles.

Updated on: 25-Apr-2023


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