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A transparent, colorless, viscous liquid that is hygroscopic and has a sweet taste. Glycerol, first isolated in 1779 by Scheele, is a byproduct from the saponification of fats and oils. It is used in the production of alkyd resins, ester gums and dynamite. The thick, neutral liquid is also used as an emulsifier/plasticizer in printing inks, watercolor and gouache paints, glues, cements, and regenerated cellulose (rayon, Cellophane). In some formulations, glycerol is substituted with Sorbitol, or Corn syrup. The term glycerin is used for commercial materials containing more than 95 percent glycerol.



Chemical structure


Synonyms and Related Terms

glycerin; glycerine; glycol alcohol; 1,2,3-propanetriol; trihydroxypropane; sweet oil; glyceryl alcohol


  • Combustible. May explode if mixed with strong oxidizing agents such as chromium trioxide, potassium chlorate or potassium permanganate.
  • ThermoFisher: SDS
  • Most references consider glycerol a green solvent because it is bio-based, relatively non-toxic and biodegradable; its drawback for use is viscosity.

Physical and Chemical Properties

Miscible with water, ethanol. Insoluble in ether, benzene and chlorinated hydrocarbons.

Composition C3H8O3
CAS 56-81-5
Melting Point 17.8 C
Density 1.2653 g/ml
Molecular Weight mol. wt. = 92.1
Boiling Point 290 C


Properties of Common Solvents

Resources and Citations

  • R. J. Gettens, G.L. Stout, Painting Materials, A Short Encyclopaedia, Dover Publications, New York, 1966
  • Ralph Mayer, A Dictionary of Art Terms and Techniques, Harper and Row Publishers, New York, 1969 (also 1945 printing)
  • Matt Roberts, Don Etherington, Bookbinding and the Conservation of Books: a Dictionary of Descriptive Terminology, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington DC, 1982
  • Reed Kay, The Painter's Guide To Studio Methods and Materials, Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1983
  • S.R.Trotman, E.R. Trotman, Textile Analysis, J.B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia, 1932
  • Conservation termlist :