What is Trichloroethylene?


Course: SS4561
CE Original Date: 08/05/2022
CE Expiration Date: 08/05/2024
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Learning Objective 1

After completing this section, you will be able to define TCE properties.

  • Trichloroethylene (TCE) (C2HCl3) is a synthetic chemical.
  • TCE is a clear, colorless, nonflammable liquid with a sweet, fruity odor.
  • TCE is a lipophilic, volatile organic compound, and readily evaporates at room temperature.
  • TCE is slightly soluble in water; soluble in ethanol, acetone, diethyl ether, and chloroform; and miscible in oil.
molecular structure of trichloroethylene

Historically, TCE had a wide range of uses, including intermediate chemicals, industrial and commercial solvents, pharmaceuticals, insecticides, fumigants, textiles, adhesives, and paints. However, as of 2011, most U.S. consumption (EPA, 2014) is attributable to two specific uses:

  • As an intermediate chemical in a closed system for manufacturing refrigerant chemicals – 83.6%
  • As a solvent for vapor degreasing of metal parts – 14.7%
  • Other uses, including as a spot-removal agent in the dry-cleaning industry, and in certain consumer products (spray fixatives for arts and craft uses) – 1.7%
Environmental Fate

In the atmosphere, TCE is destroyed by photooxidation, with a half-life of 3–8 days during the summer months and approximately 2 weeks in cold climates during the winter. This relatively short half-life significantly limits the transport of TCE in air. However, the continual volatilization of TCE from emission sources or contaminated surface waters ensures its persistence in air.

TCE volatilizes quickly from water at a rate that depends on temperature, water movement, and aeration. The biodegradation of TCE under anaerobic conditions is slow, making TCE relatively persistent in subsurface waters, with a half-life of months to years.


Trichloroethylene is also known as

  • TCE,
  • 1,1,2-trichloroethene,
  • acetylene trichloride, and
  • Trichloroethene
Key Points
  • TCE is a synthetic chemical that is now mainly used as a chemical intermediate and a metal degreaser.
  • TCE is used in certain consumer products.
Section 1.1 Question #1

To review relevant content, see “Properties” and “Use” in Section 1.1.

Page last reviewed: September 9, 2022