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I'm looking to experiment with distillation to have a basis for understanding the theory slightly better, and get a better feel for it.

I'm hoping for some suggestions as to what I could try distilling, such as purifying drinking alcohol. Any single idea would be appreciated, best answer would be awarded to an idea where:

  • The resulting purity would be straight forward to approximately test
  • No part of the distillation presents a significant hazard (e.g. toxic fumes, high volatility)
  • No particularly specialist or expensive equipment is required (e.g. extreme temperatures)

I think that pretty much covers it. I'm just looking for one or two ideas which I can experiment with besides alcohol.

Thanks

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This is tricky. Besides water, nearly everything has some hazard associated with it. And even water distillation involves high temperature (100C). Be careful distilling alcohol: the azeotrope of distilled alcohol is 95% ethanol which is VERY flammable! Plus, technically speaking, distilling alcohol may be illegal where you live.

One thing you could do is distill water with dissolved substances, most likely table salt (NaCl). This would help you test the principle that distillation is a technique for separating substances. In this case, distilling salt water should yield pure water. A more visual example would be brewed coffee or tea, which is a suspension and should separate into water and crud!

And after that, I'd be careful! For example, concentrating acetic acid (white vinegar) is dangerous, as concentrated acetic acid is both corrosive and has choking fumes. I would not even consider trying something that is not food grade, given your requirements.

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    $\begingroup$ Well, tea isn't just a suspension; tea for instance has oxalic acid, which dissociates in water, and tannins, which dissolve much like sugar does. But, "un-brewing" tea or coffee is an excellent suggestion for an introduction to laboratory distillation. $\endgroup$ – KeithS Mar 8 '13 at 0:37

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