Toluene -


Toluene, also known as methylbenzene, is a clear, colorless liquid with a distinctive sweet smell that is widely used in industrial settings as a solvent. Toluene also is an ingredient in some consumer products such as paints, glues and nail polish removers.

Toluene occurs naturally in crude oil and in the tolu tree. It also is produced when manufacturing gasoline and other fuels from crude oil and in making coke, a type of fuel derived from coal that is used to make steel.

Uses & Benefits

Industrial Uses

Toluene is typically used in the production of paints, rubber, lacquers, glues and adhesives because it can help dry, dissolve and thin other substances. It is used in the production process to make other chemicals, including benzene, nylon, plastics, and polyurethane and in the synthesis of trinitrotoluene (TNT), benzoic acid, benzoyl chloride and toluene diisocyanate.

Personal Care Products

Toluene has been used as an ingredient in nail polish removers, due to its ability to help dissolve other substances, such as resins and plasticizers. It has also been used in the formulation of nail products to enable nail polishes, hardeners and lacquers to be applied smoothly.


Toluene is produced in the manufacturing of gasoline, and it is also a gasoline additive that can be used to improve octane ratings for fuel used in race cars and other automobiles. The higher the octane number or rating, the greater the fuel’s resistance to knocking or pinging during combustion. Toluene is used in these applications because it is dense and contains significant energy per unit of volume, which enhances power generation for vehicles.

Safety Information

Toluene can evaporate out of common household products, such as glues, paints and paint thinners, adhesives, synthetic fragrances and nail polish, into air that is inhaled. Exposure to toluene in consumer products can be reduced by using these products in well-ventilated areas and closely following all label warnings and instructions.

Answering Questions

Has the use of toluene in nail polish been reviewed for safety?

Use of toluene in cosmetics like nail polish has been reviewed for safety. The Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) Expert Panel first reviewed toluene in 1987 and determined it was safe for use in nail products when limited to concentrations no greater than 50 percent of the product. The Panel re-evaluated the safety of toluene in nail polish in 2005 and confirmed its original conclusion.

How does the federal government regulate toluene to protect health?

In occupational settings, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has set a legal toluene exposure limit for workers of 200 parts per million (ppm) averaged over an 8-hour workday. The U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has set a recommended limit of 100 ppm for toluene in air averaged over a 10-hour workday, and the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) recommends that toluene in workplace air not exceed 20 ppm over an 8-hour day.

EPA closely monitors and sets limits on toluene emitted from industrial sources; this includes the level of contaminants in drinking water at which no adverse health effects are likely to occur. The EPA has recommended a drinking water guideline value of 1 mg/L for toluene to protect public health.