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Climbing Rope & Denatured Alcohol


Original Post
James Wang · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jul 2017 · Points: 0

I own a Blue Water Ropes 9.7 mm lightning pro. I recently packed both my rope and camping stove/pot into a backpack. When I opened my backpack 7 hours later, it smelled like alcohol. The fuel for my stove, which is denatured alcohol (rei.com/product/837419/crow…), had leaked out of the stove. I'm not sure if the fuel came into direct contact with the rope because the stove was inside the pot which was capped/closed (hoping I was just smelling fumes), but I could be wrong since the bag smelled like alcohol.

I am curious if this incident will affect the strength of the rope. My research online seems to indicate that denatured alcohol is not very corrosive. I have also read that if the chemical in question does not damage your skin (which seems to be true in this case), then it is safe for the rope. The denatured alcohol has never caused any problems to my skin when I have spilled it.

Any input would be highly regarded. Thank you!

Harumpfster Boondoggle · · Between yesterday and today. · Joined Apr 2018 · Points: 0

Contact the rope maker. Don't take advice on a topic like this over the internet (aka I don't know :).

Gerrit Verbeek · · Anchorage, AK · Joined Sep 2017 · Points: 0

You'll be fine. Regular use of the rope, including falls and getting dirt in the sheath, will degrade a rope much more than a minor fuel spill on there. If it's dry-treated you might have degraded that coating sliiiiightly faster than normal use would have degraded it. Just let it evaporate and maybe wash the rope if you're feeling particularly cautious.

In case you need peace of mind:
Blue water ropes are advertised as having a nylon core and nylon/spectra sheath. Most denatured alcohol is ethanol diluted with methanol (~10%).
Nylon has excellent resistance to ethanol and B-grade resistance ("Good, Minor Effect, slight corrosion or discoloration") to methanol: https://www.calpaclab.com/nylon-chemical-compatibility-chart/ 
And it's not like you submerged the rope in fuel for 72 hours...

mpech · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Sep 2013 · Points: 2

looks like the stuff you spilled on your rope is a 90% ethanol 10% isopropanol mix. Based on that, you should be fine.

If the denatured alcohol had contained organic solvents (eg acetone etc...) I would have been more worried...

best,
matt

C J · · Sac Valley, CA · Joined Jun 2017 · Points: 0
mpech wrote: looks like the stuff you spilled on your rope is a 90% ethanol 10% isopropanol mix. Based on that, you should be fine.

If the denatured alcohol had contained organic solvents (eg acetone etc...) I would have been more worried...

best,
matt

So how is ethanol not an organic solvent?

Harumpfster Boondoggle · · Between yesterday and today. · Joined Apr 2018 · Points: 0
C J wrote:

So how is ethanol not an organic solvent?

Well, it certainly is...but generally petroleum product (plastic/nylon) safe....This does not mean for a second that denatured alcohol is ok for your rope, just beer....(also, I just don't know....:).

Jeffrey Constine · · Los Angeles, CA · Joined May 2009 · Points: 563

YUR GONNA DIE ;)

mpech · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Sep 2013 · Points: 2
C J wrote:

So how is ethanol not an organic solvent?

by organic solvent I meant things like acetone and other hydrocarbons that are good solvents for plastics... I don't consider ethanol or isopropanol to be particularly good solvents for plastic. 

i'm a biologist, not a chemist-- any real chemists feel free to chime in here. 
James Wang · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jul 2017 · Points: 0

Thanks all for the input. I have also emailed blue water ropes and am awaiting reply. Will update if I get a reply. In the meantime, other opinions welcome. 

Lee Green · · Edmonton, Alberta · Joined Nov 2011 · Points: 50

I inquired of my son, a materials science engineer. Wouldn't worry about ethanol. Prolonged exposure to methanol can be a problem for nylon, but you'd see some discoloration of the surface.

Ryan SD · · Reno, Nv · Joined May 2015 · Points: 0

Wouldn't worry as much about ethanol as much as methanol. However we do use ethanol to clean out our test tubes and other stuff in the lab I work at. But it's not particularly great at destroying plastics/nylons as far as I know. Curious to see what the reply from bluewater is. 

Mark Straub · · Berkeley, CA · Joined Feb 2010 · Points: 25
mpech wrote:

by organic solvent I meant things like acetone and other hydrocarbons that are good solvents for plastics... I don't consider ethanol or isopropanol to be particularly good solvents for plastic. 

i'm a biologist, not a chemist-- any real chemists feel free to chime in here. 

Chemist here.  All of these are considered organic solvents, but will not act similarly on a rope.  Ethanol is fine- otherwise, many ropes would be rendered useless from drunken shenanigans around the campsite.  However, isopropanol might not be so great.  This chemical compatibility chart lists isopropanol as incompatible- probably best to contact the rope manufacturer: calpaclab.com/nylon-chemica…

Acetone is not technically a hydrocarbon, and it should not affect nylon.  Hydrocarbons (i.e. substances only containing carbon and hydrogen), such as hexane, gasoline, kerosene, etc. should actually be fine according to the chart, although I would be skeptical due to impurities.

Definitely keep anything acidic away from ropes- don't keep them anywhere near car batteries!  Small amounts of acid can hydrolyze the nylon and directly break the bonds, weakening the rope severely.  Coolant/antifreeze should also stay far away from ropes.
20 kN · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Feb 2009 · Points: 1,346

Isopropanol alcohol is not safe for use on nylon as far as I am aware. I looked into this awhile back and the answer I got was that it's a no-go. As far as your rope goes, the only way to know for sure is to test it. Buy a few nylon runners, soak them in the same amount of the chemical as your rope experienced and then send them in to be pull tested. That will give you a more certain answer. Most companies would be willing to test them for free.

Gunkiemike · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jul 2009 · Points: 2,800

Any traces of alcohol - of any sort - that OP may or may not have gotten on his rope are surely evaporated off by now.  OP - go climbing!

Dylan B. · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2006 · Points: 521
mpech wrote: looks like the stuff you spilled on your rope is a 90% ethanol 10% isopropanol mix. Based on that, you should be fine.

If the denatured alcohol had contained organic solvents (eg acetone etc...) I would have been more worried...

best,
matt

The retailer’s comments on the link indicate that the exact mix is proprietary, but that the fuel is a mix of 

methanol 65-75%

ethanol 20-30%

isopropanol 0-5%

methyl isobutyl ketone 0-1%. 

None of that means anything to me, but there you have it.
mpech · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Sep 2013 · Points: 2

Looks like I was wrong both for the composition of this fuel and how bad isopropanol is on nylon, sorry for the bad info. Still hard for me to believe ethanol would be ok but 2-oh wouldn't....

Steve Skarvinko · · SLC, UT · Joined Nov 2011 · Points: 25
James Wang wrote: I'm not sure if the fuel came into direct contact with the rope because the stove was inside the pot which was capped/closed (hoping I was just smelling fumes), but I could be wrong since the bag smelled like alcohol.
When you took the rope out, was it physically wet or was anything else wet in the pack?  I'd be worried if it was known to be exposed / submerged for a long period of time (compatibility charts are usually based on full submersion). If not, it sounds like the spill was probably a very small quantity and contained in your pot, so I think your most likely good to go. This fuel has a high vapor pressure (86.1 mmHg) so when it spilled it turned into vapors quickly (which is what you had been smelling). However your rope is your lifeline and when in doubt, replace it. As Mark and 20Kn are saying, the Isopropanol is not compatible with nylon. Here's another source:

The question is if you want to risk your life and/or your partners life for the price of a new rope? Its probably fine for a TR, but IDK if I'd want to use it to catch a big fall if it was questionable.
Mark Straub · · Berkeley, CA · Joined Feb 2010 · Points: 25
Gunkiemike wrote: Any traces of alcohol - of any sort - that OP may or may not have gotten on his rope are surely evaporated off by now.  OP - go climbing!

The chemical composition of the rope may be altered due to isopropanol exposure, even if all the isopropanol is gone.  It's probably okay, but as one of the most critical (and non-redundant) parts of a climbing system, I'd personally get a new rope.

Mark Straub · · Berkeley, CA · Joined Feb 2010 · Points: 25
mpech wrote: Still hard for me to believe ethanol would be ok but 2-oh wouldn't....

I agree, it's pretty weird.  Maybe isopropanol is just the right shape and size to intercalate between the amide chains, but I'm just speculating at this point.

mpech · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Sep 2013 · Points: 2
Mark Straub wrote:

I agree, it's pretty weird.  Maybe isopropanol is just the right shape and size to intercalate between the amide chains, but I'm just speculating at this point.

ok, good to know that I'm not going crazy!


From the link you shared, it looks like isopropyl, propyl and butyl alcohols react, whereas the other alcohols do not.... 
James Wang · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jul 2017 · Points: 0

I got a short reply from BlueWater ropes as follows:

"Thanks for reaching out. Your rope is ok to climb on. One of our rules is if it’s ok for your skin then it’s ok for your rope. Let us know if you have any additional questions or concerns."

I'm going to reply to see if they actually looked into the chemical composition of the Crown stove alcohol or if that even matters based on their rule.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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