Diethyl Ether has a chemical formula of (C2H5)2O and is an organic compound. It appears as a highly flammable, colourless liquid with a characteristic sweet pungent odour. It is the most well-known member of a group of chemical compounds known as Ethers. Diethyl Ether is a solvent with many and various uses. Other names for Diethyl Ether include Ethoxyethane, Etyl Oxide and Anaesthetic Ether.
Ether was for many years used as an anaesthetic in place of Chloroform, when performing surgical operations and procedures. Ether depresses the myocardium and renders the patient unconscious to enable surgery to take place. However, Ether is rarely used as an anaesthetic nowadays due to its many unpleasant side effects including nausea and vomiting. Modern anaesthetics such as Methyl Propyl Ether and Metoxyflurane have fewer side effects and are generally considered to be a safer alternative.
Today, Diethyl Ether is one of the most widely used Ethers in the laboratory where it is used for liquid-liquid extraction, due to its limited solubility in water. It is also used for the Grigard Reaction process. Diethyl Ether is widely used in the production of cellulose plastics including cellulose acetate. Diethyl Ether is also used as a starting fluid for gas and diesel engines.
Diethyl Ether is a stable substance but is sensitive to light and air. It is extremely Flammable and presents a serious fire and explosion risk. Vapours of Diethyl Ether may travel considerable distances to the source of ignition. Diethyl Ether must be stored away from potential sources of heat, flame and static electricity. Diethyl Ether must be stored away from oxidising materials and acids, in a segregated and secure area. Diethyl Ether must be kept in a cool, well-ventilated area, with tops tightly closed and away from children and animals. Diethyl Ether may form Peroxides when stored which presents a serious fire and explosive risk.
Diethyl Ether is Harmful by ingestion, inhalation and on skin contact. The vapours of Diethyl Ether may cause nausea and vomiting if inhaled, which can result in coma. Diethyl Ether must always be handled in a well-ventilated area and large quantities must be handled under fume extraction. Appropriate respiratory equipment should be worn, together with protective clothing, approved eye protection, safety footwear and suitable safety gloves.