Difference Between Diethyl Ether and Petroleum Ether

Main Difference – Diethyl Ether vs Petroleum Ether

Although the two names of diethyl ether and petroleum ether sound quite similar, they are entirely different chemical compounds with many industrial applications. The main difference between diethyl ether and petroleum ether is that diethyl ether is a pure organic liquid and petroleum ether is a mixture of hydrocarbons. Diethyl ether is an ether whereas petroleum ether does not contain an ether linkage (-O-). They are both found in liquid form at room temperature with highly volatile properties.    

What is Diethyl Ether

Diethyl ether, also known as ethyl ether, is an organic compound with a strong characteristic odour and a hot, sweetish taste. The molecular formula and molecular weight of Diethyl ether are C4H10O and 74.1216 g mol-1 respectively. It is a colourless highly volatile, flammable (boiling point 34.5°C [94.1° F]) liquid.

Its molecular structure has two ethyl groups (-CH2CH3) linked through an oxygen atom (C2H5-O-C2H5). It’s IUPAC name is ethoxyethaneDifference Between Diethyl Ether and Petroleum Ether

What is Petroleum Ether

Petroleum ether is a clear, colourless, highly flammable, non-fluorescent liquid with a characteristic hydrocarbon odor. It is a mixture of volatile aliphatic hydrocarbons, primarily pentane and isohexane; its boiling point ranges from 30-600C. Its density is lower than the density of water, and it is water insoluble; it floats on water. It is sometimes referred as benzin, benzine, petroleum benzin, canadol, light ligroin, and skellysolve.    

In general, ethers have a unique bonding type with an alkoxy linkage R-O-R. But, petroleum ether does not contain any alkoxy linkages though it is called as petroleum ether.

Main Difference - Diethyl Ether vs Petroleum Ethe

Difference Between Diethyl Ether and Petroleum Ether


Diethyl ether is a colourless, highly volatile liquid with a sweetish pungent odor. It is slightly soluble in water and less dense than water. Its vapour is heavier than air. Diethyl ether is a relatively polar molecule, and it can form hydrogen bonds with water.

Petroleum ether is a clear, colourless, volatile liquid with the smell of hydrocarbons. It is water insoluble and less dense than water. Hence, it floats on water. Petroleum ether is a non-polar compound. Therefore, it is insoluble in polar solvents.


Diethyl ether is used in industries to make other chemicals and in biomedical research. It is a well-known anesthetic agent and widely used as a solvent. It is commonly used as a solvent for waxes, fats, oils, perfumes, alkaloids, and gums.  

Petroleum ether is used as a solvent, fuel, a detergent and as an insecticide. It is a solvent for oils, fats and waxes. It is also used in photography, paints and varnishes. 

Health Effects

The inhalation of diethyl ether vapour can cause nausea, headache, vomiting, and loss of consciousness. Eye contact may cause irritation and dermal contact with wet clothing can cause burns.

The most common ways of petroleum ether exposure can happen through inhalation and skin contact. Over exposure is harmful, and it brings several health effects to the human body. Severe effects can be caused if it contains a higher concentration of aromatic hydrocarbons. For example, the inhalation affects the central nervous system (CNS) causing headaches, dizziness, nausea, fatigue and incoordination. Skin contact may cause skin allergies, and oral ingestion causes mucous membrane irritation, vomiting, and central nervous system depression.Difference Between Diethyl Ether and Petroleum Ether - infographic



Criteria for a Recommended Standard: Occupational Exposure to Refined Petroleum Solvents. (1977, July 1). Retrieved December 28, 2015, from here 

Wikipediaorg. (2015). Wikipediaorg. Retrieved 28 December, 2015, from here

Pubchem. (2015). Nihgov. Retrieved 28 December, 2015, from here

Image Courtesy:

“Diethyl-ether-3D-balls” by Benjah-bmm27 – Own work. (Public Domain) via Wikimedia Commons

“Petroleum ether” by Seilvorbau – Own work.(CC BY-SA 4.0) via Wikimedia Commons 

About the Author: admin