Ethylene oxide

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A colorless, flammable gas that kills insects, fungi, and bacteria. Ethylene oxide is used as a commercial Fumigant and Disinfectant where it is diluted with other gases, such as Carbon dioxide, to minimize the risk of explosions. It has been used to fumigate foodstuffs, textiles, and to sterilize medical instruments. The use of ethylene oxide is restricted and is not recommended for museum use because it may alter proteinaceous, oily, and cellulosic materials. Ethylene oxide is also used as a starting material for the production of Acrylonitrile and Ethylene glycol.

Synonyms and Related Terms

1,2-epoxyethane; dimethylene oxide; Oxirane; epoxyethane; Anprolene; Oxyfume; ETO; Carboxide (mixed with carbon dioxide); Oxyfume 12 (mixed with Freon); Penngas (mixed with Freon); Ethylenoxid (Deut.); etheenoxide (Ned.)


  • Explosive and flammable at room temperature.
  • Irritant to eyes and skin.
  • Human carcinogen, teratogen.
  • Toxic at 1 ppm by inhalation and ingestion.
  • Does not provide any residual protection.
  • Airgas: SDS

Physical and Chemical Properties

Soluble in most organic solvents. Miscible with water.

Composition CH2OCH2
CAS 75-21-8
Melting Point -111 C
Density 0.8711 g/ml
Molecular Weight mol. wt. = 44.1
Boiling Point 10.7 C

Resources and Citations

  • F.H.Hengemihle, N.Weberg, C.J.Shahani, "Desorption of Residual Ethylene Oxide from Fumigated Library Materials" Preservation Research and Testing Series No. 9502, Link
  • Van Nostrand's Scientific Encyclopedia, Douglas M. Considine (ed.), Van Nostrand Reinhold, New York, 1976
  • The Merck Index, Martha Windholz (ed.), Merck Research Labs, Rahway NJ, 10th edition, 1983 Comment: entry 3848
  • Richard S. Lewis, Hawley's Condensed Chemical Dictionary, Van Nostrand Reinhold, New York, 10th ed., 1993
  • Lynda A. Zycherman, J.Richard Schrock, A Guide to Museum Pest Control, FAIC and Association of Systematics Collections, Washington DC, 1988
  • J. Dawson, CCI Technical Bulletin, 'Solving Museum Insect Problems: Chemical Control' , Canadian Conservation Institute, Ottawa, No. 15
  • Marjorie Shelley, The Care and Handling of Art Objects, The Metropolitan Museum, New York, 1987
  • Hermann Kuhn, Conservation and Restoration of Works of Art and Antiquities, Butterworths, London, 1986
  • Stephen R. Edwards, Bruce M. Bell, Mary Elizabeth King, Pest Control in Museums: a Status Report 1980, Association of Systematics Collections, Washington DC, 1980
  • G.Caneva, M.P.Nugari, O.Salvadori, Biology in the Conservation of Works of Art, ICCROM, Rome, 1991