Fact sheet: Carbon tetrachloride

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.

On this page

General information

CAS number


Molecular formula


Formula weight

153.8 g/mol


Chlorinated aliphatic hydrocarbons (CAH)

Properties (at room temperature where applicable)

Compound properties list
Melting/boiling point -23 °C / 78 °CLiquid
Relative density1.58 g/cm3Sinks in water
Vapour pressure100 mm HgVery volatile
Vapour density5.3Denser than air
Solubility in water800 mg/LLow solubility
Henry's law constant6 x 10-2 atm·m3/molRapid volatilization when dissolved
log Koc (Depending on soil or sediment characteristics)1.8 - 2.6*Moderate adsorption to organic matter

Environmental behaviour

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

Health and safety

Carbon tetrachloride should be handled with care as it is toxic.

Principal resources

Carbon tetrachloride is a manufactured chemical and does not occur naturally in the environment. Carbon tetrachloride is produced by exhaustive chlorination of a variety of low molecular weight hydrocarbons such as carbon disulfide, methane, ethane, propane and ethylene dichloride. It is also produced by thermal chlorination of methyl chloride. The Canadian production of carbon tetrachloride ceased in 1995.

The major use of carbon tetrachloride has historically been in the production of chlorofluorocarbons for refrigeration fluid and propellants for aerosol cans. Because carbon tetrachloride is a solvent, it has also been widely used as a cleaning fluid (degreasing agent in industrial and dry cleaning facilities). Carbon tetrachloride is nonflammable so was also used in fire extinguishers. Until recently, it was used as a solvent in some household products (spot remover for clothing, furniture and carpeting) and as a fumigant to kill insects in grain. Because of the toxicity of carbon tetrachloride, consumer and fumigant uses have been discontinued, and only industrial uses remain. The adoption of an international agreement (the Montreal Protocol) to reduce environmental concentrations of ozone-depleting chemicals, which called for the complete phase-out of carbon tetrachloride production by 2000, has limited the availability of carbon tetrachloride to those uses for which no effective substitute has been found.


Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). 2005. Toxicological Profile for Carbon Tetrachloride. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Georgia, USA. (Viewed March 2010).

Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment. 1999. Canadian Water Quality Guidelines for the Protection of Aquatic Life: Halogenated Methanes (tetrachloromethane). In: Canadian Environmental Quality Guidelines. Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment, Manitoba, Canada. (Viewed March 2010).

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