What is Ethylene Glycol?

by ReAgent Chemicals

Ethylene glycol (EG) is the organic compound commonly used in antifreeze. With the ability to lower the freezing point of water, it can prevent your engine from freezing over – but it can also be very dangerous.


Ethylene glycol was first prepared in 1859 when French chemist, Charles-Adolphe Wurtz, treated ethylene iodide with silver acetate. This produced what Wurtz called ethylene diacetate, which he then hydrolysed with potassium hydroxide.

The resulting compound had similar properties to ethyl alcohol as well as glycerin. Wurtz named the compound accordingly, and this is where the term ‘glycol’ originates from.


Like many of its relatives, such as polyethylene glycol, EG is a colourless and relatively odourless liquid. With the chemical formula (CH2OH) 2, it has a variety of properties. It is:

  • Viscous
  • Hygroscopic
  • Sweet-tasting
  • Toxic

Although characterised by a sweet smell, this compound is anything but. If ingested, ethylene glycol can be very toxic. Unfortunately, it is the sweet smell that can lead pets or children to accidentally consume it.

For this reason, a non-toxic antifreeze that uses propylene glycol hit the shelves in order to provide a safe alternative.

Dog putting its head out of a car window
Ethylene glycol is the main ingredient in antifreeze. Its sweet smell means that pets are likely to lap it up if it spills. This could be fatal because ethylene glycol is very toxic when consumed. Non-toxic antifreeze solutions use propylene glycol instead in order to provide a safe alternative.

What Makes Ethylene Glycol Toxic?

Consuming any amount of this substance can lead to ethylene glycol poisoning. Intoxication, vomiting, headaches and abdominal pain are all symptoms of this poisoning which, if not quickly seen to, could result in:

  • Seizures
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Kidney failure
  • Brain damage
  • Fatality

Ethylene glycol is toxic because of how it metabolises in the body. In fact, ethylene glycol itself isn’t very toxic – its metabolites are what cause the damage:

  1. It is first metabolised into glycolic acid during a two-step process
  2. Glycolic acid is then converted into oxalic acid, which combines with calcium to form calcium oxalate crystals

Calcium oxalate crystals accumulate in the kidneys, lungs and even heart. This build-up can cause severe renal failure, and are one of the tell-tale signs that ethylene glycol has been consumed.

Another reason why ethylene glycol can be very dangerous in the body is the fact that it is rapidly absorbed from the intestinal tract after consumption. Therefore, if anyone ingests this substance it is important that they get it treated immediately.

Ethylene glycol is very toxic if consumed.

Here at ReAgent, our online shop stocks ethylene glycol in a variety of sizes and even has the option of bulk orders. We also have top grade antifreeze, and non-toxic antifreeze for sale.

All of our products come with a 100% quality guarantee. Order online today, or speak with a member of our team for more information.


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