Fact sheet: Tetrachloroethene

From: Public Services and Procurement Canada

Discover a list of a contaminant's important chemical properties, how it will react in the environment, main sources of contamination related, and a brief overview of health and safety issues.

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General information

CAS number


Molecular formula


Formula weight

165.8 g/mol


Chlorinated aliphatic hydrocarbons (CAH)

Properties (at room temperature where applicable)

Compound properties list
Melting/boiling point -20 °C / 121 °CLiquid
Relative density1.62 g/cm3Sinks in water
Vapour pressure15 mm HgModerately volatile
Vapour density5.7Denser than air
Solubility in water151 mg/LLow solubility
Henry's law constant1 x 10-2 atm·m3/molRapid volatilization when dissolved
log Koc (Depending on soil or sediment characteristics)2.3 - 2.8*Moderate adsorption to organic matter

Environmental behaviour

At 20 0C, tetrachloroethane is a liquid denser than water and moderately volatile. Characterized by low solubility, it will volatilize rapidly once dissolved and adsorbs moderately to organic matter. During a spill, this compound will partially evaporate but may also enter into the soil or migrate into a waterway. Once it encounters water (surface or subsurface), the tetrachloroethane will primarily sink, or dissolve until it reaches an impermeable surface. The liquid tetrachloroethane that accumulates in a saturated zone will slowly dissolve before partially volatilizing. The adsorbed tetrachloroethane in the vadose and saturated zones will take time to disappear, liberating contamination in either the gaseous (primarily) or dissolved state. The resulting plumes (gaseous or dissolved) will be relatively limited in size.

Health and safety

Tetrachloroethene should be handled with care as it is toxic.

Principal resources

Tetrachloroethene is a widely used synthetic chemical. Most tetrachloroethene is produced by one of two processes: direct chlorination of simple hydrocarbons such as methane, ethane, propane or propene, or oxychlorination of ethene to co-produce trichloroethene and tetrachloroethene. Tetrachloroethene is used primarily as a cleaning solvent, in dry cleaning and textile processing, metal cleaning and as a chemical precursor for fluorocarbons.

In dry cleaning, tetrachloroethene is able to dissolve fats, greases, waxes and oils without harming natural or man-made fibers. In textile processing, tetrachloroethene is used as a scouring solvent that removes oils from fabrics after knitting and weaving operations. Since tetrachloroethene dissolves many organic compounds, some inorganic compounds, and high-melting pitches and waxes, it can be used to clean and dry contaminated metal parts and other fabricated materials. It is also used to remove soot from industrial boilers.

As a chemical intermediate, tetrachloroethene is primarily used in the production of 1,1,1,2 tetrafluoroethane, a popular alternative to chlorofluorocarbons refrigerants, and some hydrochlorofluorocarbons. Tetrachloroethene is also used as an insulating fluid and cooling gas in electrical transformers, in paint removers, printing inks, adhesive formulations, paper coatings, leather treatments, in aerosol formulations such as water repellants, automotive cleaners, silicone lubricants and spot removers, as an extractant for pharmaceuticals and as a precursor of trichloroacetic acid.


Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). 1997. Toxicological Profile for Tetrachloroethylene (PERC). U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Georgia, USA. (Viewed December 2013)

National Toxicology Program. 2005. Report on Carcinogens, Twelfth Edition: Substance Profile of Trichloroethylene. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, USA.(PDF, 273KB) (Viewed December 2013)

Montgomery, John H. 2007. Groundwater Chemicals, Desk Reference, Fourth Edition, CRC Press, Taylor and Francis Group, Florida, USA.