Glycol Ethers

Glycol Ethers

Glycol ethers are colorless liquids with a slight odor. Glycol ethers are used as solvents and in a variety of consumer products including cleaning products, liquid soaps, and cosmetics.

How am I exposed?

Fragrance products, deodorant, and nail polish often contain glycol ethers, which can be absorbed through the skin. Painters, cleaners and workers in industrial settings are often exposed to glycol ethers on a daily basis.

Why should I be concerned?

Glycol ethers cause a hazard to the reproductive system. Other effects include anemia (blood deficiency) and irritation of the skin, eyes, nose and throat. Short-term exposure to high levels of the glycol ethers in humans results in narcosis, pulmonary edema (excess fluid in the lungs), and severe liver and kidney damage. Long-term exposure to the glycol ethers in humans may result in neurological and blood effects, including fatigue, nausea, tremor, and anemia.

What can government and business do?

  • Businesses can manufacture products without glycol ethers by looking for safer alternative chemicals.
  • State and federal governments can continue to enforce the OSHA standards for workers and require workers to inform their customers about the hazardous chemicals used and pass legislation to phase out the use of glycol ethers in consumer products.

How can I reduce my exposure?

  • Avoid products with the word “fragrance” in the ingredient list and/or look for fragrance-free products
  • Workers should wear personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • Look for glycol ethers on the label of cleaning products and other products when possible
  • Make your own cleaning products

Additional resources Beware: Most Green Cleaning Products Contain Glycol Ethers
EPA: Glycol Ethers (2-methoxyethanol, 2-ethoxyethanol, and 2-butoxyethanol)
Clean tool: Glycol Ethers
Glycol Ethers Online: What are glycol ethers?

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