What is Ethyl Chloride?

Karyn Maier
Karyn Maier

Ethyl chloride, also known as chloroethane and monochloroethane, is a chemical compound once used as a refrigerant, a foam-blowing agent, an anti-knock additive for leaded gasoline, and an anesthetic. It is classified as a halogenated hydrocarbon, meaning it contains carbon and hydrogen atoms with one or more of the latter being replaced by halogen agents; in this case, chlorides. Ethyl chloride is produced as either a colorless gas or liquid in a reaction series using aluminum chloride as a catalyst. It is also a byproduct of polyvinyl chloride manufacturing.

Some pain relief sprays may contain ethyl chloride, which helps to cool and numb the affected area.
Some pain relief sprays may contain ethyl chloride, which helps to cool and numb the affected area.

Industrial use of this chlorinated hydrocarbon has declined sharply due to environmental concerns. In fact, the only consistent use of this chemical in manufacturing today is in the production of cosmetics and paints, where it is used to enhance the binding and thickening properties of cellulose. Ethyl chloride has retained value as a skin coolant and anesthetic, however, and has emerged as a treatment for pain relief from muscle soreness.

Ethyl chloride may be used before and after minor surgical procedures.
Ethyl chloride may be used before and after minor surgical procedures.

Put simply, this compound is a topical vapocoolant, or skin refrigerant. Since it produces an instant numbing effect, it is sometimes used to provide on-the-spot treatment for sports-related injuries. It is also used before and after minor surgical procedures, or to numb the skin prior to receiving an injection or intravenous medication. The chemical is also used to lessen myofascial pain and to improve limited motion of the limbs.

Ethyl chloride may be used to numb the skin prior to an injection.
Ethyl chloride may be used to numb the skin prior to an injection.

While anesthetic ethyl chloride spray does indeed relieve pain due to muscle tension or surgical incision, there are risks associated with its use. For one thing, ethyl chloride is not intended for long-term use since it is a known liver and kidney carcinogen. In fact, use of this agent, even as a topical spray, is restricted in the U.S. state of California for this reason. It is also necessary to protect the area surrounding the treatment site with petroleum jelly to prevent the skin from freezing. For that matter, if this product is targeted to an area for more than a few seconds, the skin may become damaged and permanently lose pigment.

Ethyl chloride may be used to soothe sore muscles after performing heavy lifting.
Ethyl chloride may be used to soothe sore muscles after performing heavy lifting.

Serious side effects are rare, although certain individuals may experience an allergic reaction indicated by a local rash, difficulty breathing, or swelling at the application site or of the tongue. Due to the “fast freeze” effects of ethyl chloride, contact with the mucous membranes of the eyes, mouth or nose should be avoided. Use of this product should also be avoided during pregnancy unless truly needed. It should also be noted that it is not known if this chemical passes through breast milk.

Individuals suffering from muscle tension may benefit from ethyl chloride.
Individuals suffering from muscle tension may benefit from ethyl chloride.
Karyn Maier
Karyn Maier

Contributing articles to wiseGEEK is just one of Karyn’s many professional endeavors. She is also a magazine writer and columnist, mainly for health-related publications, as well as the author of four books. Karyn lives in New York’s Catskill Mountain region and specializes in topics about green living and botanical medicine.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discuss this Article

Post your comments
Login:
Forgot password?
Register: