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Ethanol in Everyday Life

July 12, 2019

When we think alcohol, usually what comes to mind are alcoholic drinks. Not many think of the everyday foods and substances around us. But the truth is that ethanol (another word for alcohol) can be present everywhere, from the bread on your table to the air freshener you use in the living room. Product labelling gets confusing when there's so many different names for different types of alcohol (tip: they generally end in -ol, e.g. ethanol, sorbitol, methanol, glycol). Some foods have such small amounts of alcohol that is not listed as an ingredient, but can still affect your breath alcohol readings if you consume them before a breath test.

This isn't a complete list of substances which hide alcohol, but hopefully will get you thinking about all the unexpected ways alcohol can make its way into your breath (even when you haven't been drinking).


Can contain several types of alcohol, including an alcohol-based sweetener called Sorbitol.


Unless labelled as alcohol free, a primary ingredient in mouthwash is alcohol. Even if it is labelled as alcohol free, it may still contain sorbitol.

Breath Spray:

Alcohol is a common ingredient in breath sprays.

Liquid medicines:

Many liquid forms of medicine contain alcohol as a solvent, including some cough syrups, antihistamines and painkillers.

Mints and menthol:

Even mints can have trace amounts of alcohol, with a primary ingredient often being sorbitol, and alcohol-based sweetener.

Bread products:

Did you know that bread contains many of the same ingredients as beer? The fermentation process when letting bread rise creates alcohol. Most of the alcohol is cooked off in the baking process, but trace amounts can remain.

Ripe fruit and juices:

Ripe fruits can begin to ferment and produce small amounts of alcohol.

Vanilla extract:

A common addition to pastries and deserts. Vanilla extract traditionally has a high alcohol content that can show up on breath tests.

Meat marinades and sauces:

May contain trace amounts of alcohol that has not been cooked off.


This popular fermented tea drink can have unexpected alcohol concentrations. Despite the claimed health benefits, it's best to steer clear of this one when you are planning to drive.

Wine based vinegars:

Will also have trace amounts of alcohol in them, particularly when used uncooked as dressings.

Of course we wouldn't want you to give up all of these things, and we are definitely don't recommend ditching your toothpaste for 6 months. Just make sure that in the 10 minutes before a breath test, you don't consume any food/drink (except water) or use any of the above substances. Rinse your mouth out with plain water before providing a breath test to remove any trace remnants of alcohol in the products. If you follow these two steps, then you shouldn't have a problem with the interlock finding traces of alcohol in your mouth.