Methylene Chloride | Uses, Benefits, and Chemical Safety Facts

Methylene Chloride

Methylene chloride, also known as dichloromethane and methylene dichloride, is a clear, colorless liquid with a slightly sweet scent that is primarily used as an industrial solvent and also as a potent paint stripper and paint thinner.

Uses & Benefits

Household Uses

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.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a final rule banning the use of methylene chloride in all paint removers for consumer use, effective November 24, 2019.

Industrial/Manufacturing Uses

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.

Transportation Industry

  • Methylene chloride can be used to degrease metal surfaces and parts, such as airplane components and railroad tracks and equipment. Lubricating and degreasing 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 degreasing process to remove oils and grease from car transistor parts, diesel motors and aircraft components and spacecraft assemblies.
  • Modern vapor degreasing techniques that rely on methylene chloride enable metal parts in transportation systems to be cleaned quickly and safely.

Medical Applications

  • 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.

Safety Information

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) monitors and regulates methylene chloride in industrial settings. OSHA’s Methylene Chloride Standard sets a permissible exposure limit of 25 parts of methylene chloride per million parts of air over an eight-hour period. Employers must follow OSHA requirements applicable to worker protection, including maintaining proper ventilation and use of respirators and other safety gear.

When methylene chloride is used in food and beverage processing, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sets limits for the amount of the chemical that can remain as a residue in food products.

EPA has a Methylene Chloride Hazard Summary. Methylene chloride poisoning incidents during paint stripping operations and bath tub refinishing have demonstrated that inhalation exposure at extremely high levels can be fatal to humans.

Effective November 24, 2019, it will be illegal to manufacture (including import), process, distribute or sell methylene chloride in paint removers for consumer use. EPA found consumer uses of the chemical in paint strippers to pose unreasonable risks to human health. Breathing in large amounts of methylene chloride, especially in enclosed spaces without adequate ventilation, can be lethal. Exposure to methylene chloride also can cause dizziness and burn skin or cause redness. More detailed information can be found on the manufacturer’s Safety Data Sheet.

The use of methylene chloride in commercial applications should comply with all applicable workplace disposal and other environmental regulatory requirements.

Answering Questions

How is methylene chloride regulated for safety?

An EPA ban on methylene chloride paint removers for consumer use takes effect on November 24, 2019. The ban will require establishments, including e-commerce sites, to permanently suspend the sale of paint removal products containing methylene chloride to consumers.

EPA is also working on a future rulemaking that could establish a federally-enforceable training, certification, and limited access program for methylene chloride for commercial uses.

EPA requires that releases of methylene chloride of 1,000 pounds or more be reported to the federal government. EPA also has guidelines on how much methylene chloride a person can be exposed to for certain amounts of time “without causing risk to human health.”

OSHA has set a permissible exposure limit for methylene chloride for workers. In food products such as spices, hops extract for beer and decaffeinated coffee and tea, FDA has established limits on the amounts of methylene chloride that can remain in a product. Under the Federal Hazardous Substances Act, the Consumer Product Safety Commission requires labeling for products containing methylene chloride.