Dichloromethane, also called methylene chloride, is a volatile, colourless, non-flammable liquid with a sweet ether-like odour. It's used as a solvent and emits toxic fumes when heated.
Exposure to dichloromethane mainly occurs through inhalation, digestion or direct contact through the eyes and skin.
Where possible you should not use dichloromethane, or use other, safer products that don’t contain it.
If you have to work with dichloromethane you must:
- reduce emissions escaping closed systems
- keep closed systems closed
- use ventilation
- use the right personal protective equipment (PPE), eg respirators, goggles and chemical resistant gloves
- train workers to fit, use and maintain PPE
- have safety equipment available, eg eye wash and showers
- do air monitoring regularly
- always follow the advice in safety data sheets and on product labels.
In the event of suspected exposure, call the Poisons Information Centre on 131 126
Dichloromethane is found in natural sources such as marine areas and wetlands. It is used as a solvent in paint removers and as a degreaser. It is also used in metal cleaning, as a solvent in the production of polycarbonate resins, in film processing and in ink formulations. Its volatility has led to its use as a blowing agent for polyurethane foams. It is also used in the food industry as an extraction solvent. When in contact with hot surfaces and open flames, dichloromethane can break down and emit the highly toxic fumes phosgene and chlorine.
The potential for harm depends on concentration and duration of use. Short term exposure to dichloromethane can cause:
- eye and skin irritation/burns
- coughing, wheezing and/or shortness of breath.
At high concentrations, short term exposure to dichloromethane may cause the heart to beat irregularly (arrhythmia). It can also result in fluid build-up in the lung, leading to unconsciousness and death.
Prolonged or repeated skin contact can result in dry, red, cracked skin. Long term exposure at high levels may damage the liver and brain. Dichloromethane is a neurotoxic agent and is suspected of causing cancer.
Adequate controls such as minimising the generation of vapours and mists and use of personal protective equipment (PPE) can minimise any hazardous exposures and prevent illness in the workplace.
Read the dichloromethane technical fact sheet.