Cellulose ether

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A class of water-soluble polymers with a cellulose backbone and ether containing substituents. In general, cellulose ethers are white bulky solids that form clear, hygroscopic films. They were first produced commercially in the 1920s in Germany and the 1930s in the United States. Cellulose ethers are made by treating Cellulose with concentrated Sodium hydroxide followed by etherification with one or more reagents such as methyl chloride, ethyl chloride, ethylene oxide or propylene oxide. They are used as adhesives, poultices, consolidants and coatings. Aging studies indicate that Methyl cellulose (MC), Hydroxypropylmethyl cellulose (HPMC) and Carboxymethyl cellulose (CMC) polymers have very good stability with negligible discoloration or weight loss (Feller and Wilt 1990). Ethyl cellulose (EC), organic soluble Ethylhydroxyethyl cellulose (OS-EHEC) and Hydroxypropyl cellulose (HPC) are not recommended for long-term use (Feller and Wilt 1990).

See also Hydroxyethyl cellulose and Methylhydroxyethyl cellulose

Synonyms and Related Terms

éteres de celulosa (Esp.); éther de cellulose (Fr.); etere di cellulosa (It.); éter de celulose (Port.)

Examples include: methyl cellulose (MC); sodium carboxymethyl cellulose (CMC); hydroxypropyl cellulose (HPC); ethyl hydroxyethyl cellulose (EHEC); hydroxyethyl cellulose (HEC); methyl hydroxypropyl cellulose (MHPC); Klucel® [Aqualon]; Glutolin [Kalle]; CMC7HC [Hercules]; Methocel A [Dow]; Cellosize® [Union Carbide];


  • Adhesive


  • Can attract pests
  • Susceptible to heat degradation, UV oxidation and microbial attack.
  • Protect from sunlight, heat, and moisture.

Physical and Chemical Properties

  • Most are soluble in cold water.
  • Most are insoluble in hot water.

Resources and Citations

  • R.Feller, M.Wilt, Evaluation of Cellulose Ethers for Conservation, in Research in Conservation Series, Getty Conservation Institute, 1990.
  • A Glossary of Paper Conservation Terms, Margaret Ellis (ed.), Conservation Center of the Institute of Fine Arts, New York City, 1998
  • Hermann Kuhn, Conservation and Restoration of Works of Art and Antiquities, Butterworths, London, 1986