Trichloroethylene, or TCE, is a man-made chemical. It’s primarily used as a solvent. TCE is a clear, colorless liquid with a sweet, fruity odor. We’ve made it green in the illustrations. TCE is considered a volatile organic compound, or VOC, because it evaporates easily into the air.
TCE is widely used in industry. It was mainly used for degreasing manufactured metal parts. TCE has been replaced by other solvents for some degreasing operations, but millions of pounds are still used annually. Newer industrial processes try to enclose areas where TCE is used for degreasing to prevent worker exposures. TCE is also used as a chemical for making other chemicals including PVC plastic, some pesticides, and flame retardants. TCE is one of the solvents that had been extensively used in the past by the dry cleaning industry. It is used now more for spot cleaning clothing stains.
TCE is still found in many household and consumer products, including paint removers, glue, spot and stain removers, carpet spot removers, metal cleaners, and gun cleaners.
TCE had many uses in the past. It was used as a grain fumigant and pet food additive until its use was banned for food and medical uses in 1977. Until the mid-1970s, it was used to extract vegetable oils and spices and to extract caffeine for the production of decaffeinated coffee. TCE was used for anesthesia in hospitals—especially for women during childbirth during the 1950s and 60s, as a surgical disinfectant, and to treat migraines and trigeminal neuralgia –which is a nerve disorder that causes severe pain in the face.