Key Difference – Diethyl Ether vs Petroleum Ether
Although the two names diethyl ether and petroleum ether sound quite similar, they are entirely different chemical compounds with many industrial applications. Diethyl ether is a pure organic liquid and petroleum ether is a mixture of hydrocarbons. The key difference between diethyl ether and petroleum ether is that diethyl ether is an ether whereas petroleum ether does not contain an ether linkage (-O-). They are both found in liquid form at room temperature with highly volatile properties.
What is Diethyl Ether?
Diethyl ether, also known as ethyl ether is an organic compound with a strong characteristic odor and a hot, sweetish taste. The molecular formula and molecular weight of Diethyl ether is C4H10O and 74.1216 g mol-1 respectively. It is a colorless, highly volatile, flammable (boiling point 34.5°C [94.1° F]) liquid.
Its molecular structure has two ethyl groups (-CH2CH3) linked through an oxygen atom (C2H5-O-C2H5).
IUPAC name: ethoxyethane
What is Petroleum Ether?
Petroleum ether is a clear, colorless, highly flammable, non-fluorescent liquid with a characteristic hydrocarbon odor. It is a mixture of volatile aliphatic hydrocarbons, primarily pentane and isohexane; its boiling point ranging from 30-600C. Its density is lower than the density of water and it is water insoluble; it floats on water. It is sometimes referred as benzin, benzine, petroleum benzin, canadol, light ligroin, and skellysolve.
In general, ethers have a unique bonding type with an alkoxy linkage R-O-R’. But, petroleum ether does not contain any alkoxy linkages though it is called as petroleum ether.
What is the difference between Diethyl Ether and Petroleum Ether?
Properties of Diethyl Ether and Petroleum Ether:
Diethyl Ether: Diethyl ether is a colorless, highly volatile liquid with a sweetish pungent odor. It is slightly soluble in water and less dense than water. Its vapor is heavier than air. Diethyl ether is relatively polar molecule and it can form hydrogen bonds with water.
Petroleum Ether: Petroleum ether is a clear, colorless, volatile liquid with the smell of hydrocarbons. It is water insoluble and less dense than water; hence, it floats on water. Petroleum ether is a non-polar compound, therefore, it is insoluble in polar solvents.
Uses of Diethyl Ether and Petroleum Ether:
Diethyl Ether: Diethyl ether is used in industries to make other chemicals and in biomedical research. It is a well-known anesthetic agent and widely used as a solvent. It is commonly used as a solvent for waxes, fats, oils, perfumes, alkaloids, and gums.
Petroleum Ether: Petroleum ether is used as a solvent, a fuel, a detergent and as an insecticide. It is used as a solvent for oils, fats, and waxes. It is also used in photography, paints, and varnishes.
Health Effects of Diethyl Ether and Petroleum Ether:
Diethyl Ether: The inhalation of diethyl ether vapor can cause nausea, headache, vomiting, and loss of consciousness. Eye contact may cause irritation and dermal contact with wet clothing can cause burns.
Petroleum Ether: The most common ways of petroleum ether exposure can happen through inhalation and skin contact. Over exposure is harmful and it brings several health effects in the human body. Severe effects can cause if it contains a higher concentration of aromatic hydrocarbons. For example, the inhalation affects the central nervous system (CNS) causing headaches, dizziness, nausea, fatigue and incoordination. Skin contact may cause skin allergies and oral ingestion causes mucous membrane irritation, vomiting, and central nervous system depression.
Solvent: a solvent is a substance which can dissolve other substances.
Volatile: easily evaporated at normal temperatures
Flammable: easily set on fire
(2016). National Institute of Health. Retrieved 11 April, 2016, from here.
(2016). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved 11 April, 2016, from here.
“Petroleum ether” by Seilvorbau – Own work (CC BY-SA 4.0) via Wikimedia Commons
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