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Systematic name toluene
Other names methylbenzene
Molecular formula C7H8
SMILES Cc1ccccc1
Molar mass 92.14 g/mol
Appearance Clear, colourless liquid
CAS number [108-88-3]
Density and phase 0.8669 g/cm3, liquid
Solubility in water 0.053 g/100 mL (20-25°C)
In ethanol,
acetone, hexane,
Fully miscible
Melting point −93 °C (180 K)/(-135.4°F)
Boiling point 110.6 °C (383.8 K)/ 231.08°F
Critical temperature 320 °C (593 K)/ 608°F
Viscosity 0.590 c P at 20°C/ 68°F
Dipole moment 0.36 D
MSDS External MSDS
Main hazards highly flammable
NFPA 704

Flash point 4 °C/ 39.2 °F
R-phrases R11, R20
S-phrases S16, S25, S29, S33
RTECS number XS5250000
Supplementary data page
Structure & properties n, εr, etc.
Thermodynamic data Phase behaviour
Solid, liquid, gas
Spectral data UV, IR, NMR, MS
Related compounds
Related aromatic
Related compounds methylcyclohexane
Except where noted otherwise, data are given for
materials in their standard state (at 25°C, 100 kPa)
Infobox disclaimer and references

Toluene, also known as methylbenzene or phenylmethane is a clear, water-insoluble liquid with the typical smell of paint thinners, redolent of the sweet smell of the related compound benzene. It is an aromatic hydrocarbon that is widely used as an industrial feedstock and as a solvent.


The name toluene was derived from the older name toluol that refers to tolu balsam, an aromatic extract from the tropical American tree Myroxylon balsamum, from which it was first isolated. It was originally named by Jöns Jakob Berzelius.

Chemical properties

Toluene reacts as a normal aromatic hydrocarbon towards electrophilic aromatic substitution. The methyl group makes it around 25 times more reactive than benzene in such reactions. It undergoes smooth sulfonation to give p-toluenesulfonic acid, and chlorination by Cl2 in the presence of FeCl3 to give ortho and para isomers of chlorotoluene. It undergoes nitration to give ortho and para nitrotoluene isomers, but if heated it can give dinitrotoluene and ultimately the explosive trinitrotoluene (TNT).

With other reagents the methyl side chain in toluene may react, undergoing oxidation. Reaction with potassium permanganate leads to benzoic acid, whereas reaction with chromyl chloride leads to benzaldehyde ( Etard reaction). Halogenation can be performed under free radical conditions. For example, N-bromosuccinimide (NBS) heated with toluene in the presence of AIBN leads to benzyl bromide.

Catalytic hydrogenation of toluene to methylcyclohexane requires a high pressure of hydrogen to go to completion, because of the stability of the aromatic system


Toluene occurs naturally at low levels in crude oil and is usually produced in the processes of making gasoline via a catalytic reformer, in an ethylene cracker or making coke from coal. Final separation (either via distillation or solvent extraction) takes place in a BTX plant.


Toluene is a common solvent, able to dissolve: paints, paint thinners, many chemical reactants, rubber, printing ink, adhesives (glues), lacquers, leather tanners, and disinfectants. It can also be used as a fullerene indicator, and is a raw material for toluene diisocyanate (used in the manufacture of polyurethane foam), phenol and TNT. Toluene can be used as an octane booster in gasoline fuels used in internal combustion engines. Toluene at 84% by volume, fueled all the turbo Formula 1 teams in the 1980s. Small 1.5L turbo engines were known to operate at 5 bar (73 psi) boost in qualifying and 4 bars (59 psi) while racing. More than 1500bhp from 1.5L engines was possible. For proper atomization, the Toluene fuel blend was preheated. Industrial uses of toluene include dealkylation to benzene and disproportionation to a mixture of benzene and xylene. Toluene can be used to break open red blood cells in order to extract haemoglobin in biochemistry experiments.

Toxicology and metabolism

Inhalation of toluene fumes can be intoxicating, but in larger doses nausea-inducing. Chronic or frequent inhalation of toluene over long time periods leads to irreversible brain damage. Toluene may enter the human system not only through vapour inhalation from the liquid evaporation, but also following soil contamination events, where human contact with soil, ingestion of contaminated groundwater or soil vapour off-gassing can occur.

The toxicity of toluene can be explained mostly by its metabolism. As toluene has very low water solubility, it cannot exit the body via the normal routes (urine, feces, or sweat). It must be metabolized in order to be excreted. The methyl group of toluene is more easily oxidized by cytochrome P450 than the benzene ring. Therefore, in the metabolism of toluene, 95% is oxidized to become benzyl alcohol. The toxic metabolites are created by the remaining 5% that are ring oxidized to epoxides. Most of the epoxides become glutathione conjugated. However, the remainder will severely damage cells.

The metabolism of toluene

Toluene is mainly excreted as benzoic acid and hippuric acid, both formed by further metabolic oxidation of benzyl alcohol.

The metabolism of benzyl alcohol

Behavioural Effects of Long Term Exposure

Serious adverse behavioural effects are often associated with toluene abuse related to the deliberate inhalation of solvents.4 Long term toluene exposure is often associated with effects such as: psychoorganic syndrome;5 visual evoked potential (VEP) abnormality;5 toxic polyneuropathy, cerebellar, cognitive, and pyramidal dysfunctions;5 optic atrophy; and brain lesions.4

Toluene causes postural tremors by increasing extracellular concentrations of γ-aminobutyric acid ( GABA) within the cerebellar cortex.4 Treatment with GABA agonists such as, benzodiazepines provide some relief from toluene induced tremor and ataxia.4 An alternative to drug treatment is vim thalamotomy.4 The tremors associated with toluene misuse do not seem to be a transient symptom, but an irreversible and progressive symptom which continues after solvent abuse has been discontinued.4

There is some evidence that low level toluene exposure may cause disruption in the differentiation of astrocyte precursor cells.6 This does not appear to be a major hazard to adults; however, exposure of pregnant women to toluene during critical stages of fetal development could cause serious disruption to neuronal development.6

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