Methylene chloride, also known as dichloromethane, is a colorless liquid that has a mild sweet odor, evaporates easily, and does not burn easily. It is widely used as an industrial solvent and as a paint stripper.
It can be found in certain aerosol and pesticide products and is used in the manufacture of photographic film. The chemical may be found in some spray paints, automotive cleaners, and other household products. Methylene chloride does not appear to occur naturally in the environment. It is made from methane gas or wood alcohol. Most of the methylene chloride released to the environment results from its use as an end product by various industries and the use of aerosol products and paint removers in the home.
EPA’s final risk assessment evaluated health risks to consumers and workers using methylene chloride in paint and coating removal products, as well as bystanders in the workplace and in residences where methylene chloride paint and coating removers are used. Paint and coating removal poses some of the highest exposures among the various uses of methylene chloride.
Applications of Methylene Chloride
Methylene chloride is a solvent found in paint and varnish strippers that are used to remove paint or varnish coatings from a variety of surfaces. It is also used in bathtub refinishing.
Methylene chloride is most prominently used industrially — in the production of paint strippers, pharmaceuticals and process solvents. Methylene chloride also is used in the following industrial settings:
Food and Beverage Manufacturing
Methylene chloride is used as an extraction solvent in the food and beverage manufacturing industry. For example, methylene chloride can be used to remove caffeine from unroasted coffee beans and tea leaves, to make decaffeinated coffee and tea. Methylene chloride also is used in processing spices, creating hops extract for beer and other flavorings for the food and beverage industries.
Methylene chloride can be used to decrease metal surfaces and parts, such as airplane components and railroad tracks and equipment. Lubricating and decreasing products used in automotive products, for example in gasket removal and for prepping metal parts for a new gasket, could contain methylene chloride. Automotive specialists use a vapor methylene chloride decreasing process to remove oils and grease from car transistor parts, diesel motors and aircraft components and spacecraft assemblies. Modern vapor decreasing techniques that rely on methylene chloride enable metal parts in transportation systems to be cleaned quickly and safely.
In laboratories, methylene chloride is used to extract chemicals from plants or foods for medicine such as steroids, antibiotics and vitamins. Medical equipment can be quickly and efficiently cleaned with methylene chloride cleaners without causing corrosion problems or damage to heat-sensitive parts.
Methylene chloride is used in the production of photographic films, synthetic fibers, adhesives, inks and printed circuit boards.