Section 1.1. What Is Tetrachloroethylene?

Learning Objectives

After completing this section, you will be able to

  • define tetrachloroethylene and
  • describe uses of tetrachloroethylene
  • Tetrachloroethylene is a synthetic chemical.
  • It is a clear, colorless, nonflammable liquid with a sweet odor and a low aqueous solubility.
  • It is volatile and readily evaporates at room temperature.

Chemical structure of Tetrachloroethylene

Figure 1. Chemical structure of tetrachloroethylene –


A recent evaluation of end-use pattern for tetrachloroethylene [ATSDR 2015] estimated the following frequencies of use:

  • Chemical intermediates — 60%
  • Dry cleaning and textile processing — 18%
  • Metal degreasing — 18%
  • Oil refining catalyst regeneration — 2%
  • Miscellaneous uses including consumer products— 2%

Other uses for tetrachloroethylene [EPA 2005] include

  • an intermediate in the synthesis of fluorocarbons,
  • an insulating/cooling fluid in electric transformers,
  • a component in typewriter correction fluids,
  • a veterinary medication against worms, and
  • a grain protectant and fumigant.

Chemical synonyms for tetrachloroethylene include

  • tetrachloroethene,
  • perchloroethylene,
  • 1,1,2,2-tetrachloroethylene, and
  • ethylene tetrachloride.

Other commonly used names are

  • PCE,
  • perc,
  • perchlor, and
  • perclene.
Key Point

Tetrachloroethylene is a synthetic chemical that is widely used for dry cleaning of fabrics and for metal degreasing, as well as in some consumer products.