Difference Between Ether and Petroleum Ether

Ether vs Petroleum Ether

Ether and petroleum ether are confused by most people because of the similarity in names. Though their names are bit similar and both are liquids, they are completely different chemicals and have different uses.


This is a type of organic molecule in which two alkyl groups, aryl groups, or an alkyl and an aryl group are connected to both side of an oxygen atom. Depending on the R groups, ethers can be symmetrical or unsymmetrical. If both R groups are similar, then the ether is symmetrical and, if both are different, it is unsymmetrical.  For example, dimethylether is the simplest ether with the following formula.


Oxygen has a sp3 hybridization and the two lone pairs are in two hybridized orbitals while two are participating in bonding with R groups. R-O-R bond angle is about 104.5°, which is similar to water.  Boiling points of ethers are roughly comparable with those of hydrocarbons with the same molecular weight. But the boiling points of ethers are less than the value of alcohols. Though ethers cannot make hydrogen bonds within them, they are able to form hydrogen bonds with other compounds such as water. Therefore, ethers are soluble in water. But the solubility may decrease depending on the length of the hydrocarbon chains attached.

Ethers can be produced by intermolecular dehydration of alcohols. This usually takes place at a lower temperature than dehydration to the alkene. Williamson synthesis is another method to produce unsymmetrical ethers. This synthesis takes place between a sodium alkoxide and an alkyl halide, alkyl sulfonate or alkyl sulfate. Dilakyl ethers react with very few reagents other than acids. The reactive sites are the C-H bonds of the alkyl groups and the –o- group of the ether linkage.

Petroleum Ether

Petroleum ether is a mixture of hydrocarbon compounds. This is a highly flammable and volatile liquid. The liquid is colorless. Petroleum ether is a nonpolar solvent. Though its name says ether, it doesn’t have compounds with ether linkages. Petroleum ether is produced during the petroleum refining process. Petroleum ether is the distillation product coming out between naphtha and kerosene. Boiling point of petroleum ether is 60 oC. Its specific gravity is 0.7, which is less than that of water. This is also known as benzine or ligroin. Petroleum ether is mainly used in the laboratory as a solvent.


What is the difference between Ether and Petroleum Ether?

• Ether is an organic compound with a –O- ether linkage. It has two alkyl or aryl groups attached to the oxygen. Petroleum ether is a mixture of compounds. These are hydrocarbons.

• Though petroleum ether has “ether” in the name, it doesn’t have an ether linkage.

• Petroleum ether is a product from the petroleum refining process. But ether is not so.

• Petroleum is nonpolar and ether is relatively polar.

• Some ethers can be soluble in water, but petroleum ether is insoluble in water.

• Petroleum ether is highly flammable compared to ether.

• Ether can form hydrogen bonds with other molecules like water, but petroleum ether cannot do so.