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Carbon tetrachloride

Related subjects: Chemical compounds

Background Information

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Carbon tetrachloride
CAS number 56-23-5
PubChem 5943
EC number 200-262-8
KEGG C07561
RTECS number FG4900000
Jmol-3D images Image 1
Molecular formula CCl4
Molar mass 153.82 g/mol
Appearance Colorless liquid
Density 1.5842 g/cm3, liquid

1.831 at -186 °C (solid)
1.809 at -80 °C (solid)

Melting point

-22.92 °C (250 K)

Boiling point

76.72 °C (350 K)

Solubility in water 0.8 g/L at 25 °C
log P 2.64
Vapor pressure 11.94 kPa at 20 °C
kH 365 kJ.mol-1 at 24.8 °C
Crystal structure Monoclinic
Molecular shape Tetrahedral
MSDS External MSDS
EU classification Toxic (T), Carc. Cat. 2B, Dangerous for the environment (N)
R-phrases R23/24/25, R40, R48/23, R59, R52/53
S-phrases (S1/2), S23, S36/37, S45, S59, S61
NFPA 704
NFPA 704.svg
Flash point Not flammable
Supplementary data page
Structure and
n, εr, etc.
Phase behaviour
Solid, liquid, gas
Spectral data UV, IR, NMR, MS
Except where noted otherwise, data are given for materials in their standard state (at 25 °C, 100 kPa)
Infobox references

Carbon tetrachloride, also known by many other names (see Table) is the chemical compound with the formula CCl4. It is a reagent in synthetic chemistry and was formerly widely used in fire extinguishers and as a precursor to refrigerants. It is a colorless liquid with a "sweet" smell that can be detected at low levels.

Both carbon tetrachloride and tetrachloromethane are acceptable names under IUPAC nomenclature. Colloquially, it is called "carbon tet".

History and synthesis

The production of carbon tetrachloride has steeply declined since the 1980's due to environmental concerns and the decreased demand for CFCs, which were derived from carbon tetrachloride. In 1992, production in the U.S.-Europe-Japan was estimated at 720,000,000 kg.

Carbon tetrachloride was originally synthesised in 1839 by reaction of chloroform with chlorine, from the french chemist Henri Victor Regnault, but now it is mainly synthesized from methane:

CH4 + 4 Cl2 → CCl4 + 4 HCl

The production often utilizes by-products of other chlorination reactions, such as the syntheses of dichloromethane and chloroform. Higher chlorocarbons are also subjected to "chlorinolysis:"

C2Cl6 + Cl2 → 2 CCl4

Prior to the 1950's, carbon tetrachloride was manufactured by the chlorination of carbon disulfide at 105 to 130 °C:

CS2 + 3Cl2 → CCl4 + S2Cl2


In the carbon tetrachloride molecule, four chlorine atoms are positioned symmetrically as corners in a tetrahedral configuration joined to a carbon atom, in the centre, by single covalent bonds. Because of this symmetrical geometry, the molecule has no net dipole moment; that is, CCl4 is non-polar. As a solvent, it is well suited to dissolving other non-polar compounds, fats and oils. It is somewhat volatile, giving off vapors having a smell characteristic of other chlorinated solvents, somewhat similar to the tetrachloroethylene smell reminiscent of dry cleaners' shops.

Solid tetrachloromethane has 2 allotropes: crystaline II below -47.5 °C (225.6 K) and crystaline I above -47.5 °C.

At -47.3 °C it has monoclinic crystal structure with space group C2/c and lattice constants a = 20.3, b = 11.6, c = 19.9 (.10-1 nm), β = 111°.


In the early 20th century, carbon tetrachloride was widely used as a dry cleaning solvent, as a refrigerant, and in fire extinguishers. However, once it became apparent that carbon tetrachloride exposure had severe adverse health effects, safer alternatives such as tetrachloroethylene were found for these applications, and its use in these roles declined from about 1940 onward. Carbon tetrachloride persisted as a pesticide to kill insects in stored grain, but in 1970, it was banned in consumer products in the United States.

Prior to the Montreal Protocol, large quantities of carbon tetrachloride were used to produce the freon refrigerants R-11 ( trichlorofluoromethane) and R-12 ( dichlorodifluoromethane). However, these refrigerants are now believed to play a role in ozone depletion and have been phased out. Carbon tetrachloride is still used to manufacture less destructive refrigerants.

Carbon tetrachloride has also been used in the detection of neutrinos. Carbon tetrachloride is one of the most potent hepatotoxins, and is widly used in scientific research to evaluate hepatoprotective agents 7,8


Carbon tetrachloride has practically no flammability at lower temperatures. Under high temperatures in air, it forms poisonous phosgene.

Because it has no C-H bonds, carbon tetrachloride does not easily undergo free-radical reactions. Hence it is a useful solvent for halogenations either by the elemental halogen, or by a halogenation reagent such as N-bromosuccinimide.

In organic chemistry, carbon tetrachloride serves as a source of chlorine in the Appel reaction.


It is used as a solvent in synthetic chemistry research, but because of its adverse health effects, it is no longer commonly used, and chemists generally try to substitute it with other solvents. It is sometimes useful as a solvent for infrared spectroscopy because there are no significant absorption bands > 1600 cm-1. Because carbon tetrachloride does not have any hydrogen atoms, it was historically used in proton NMR spectroscopy. However, carbon tetrachloride is toxic, and its dissolving power is low. Its use has been largely superseded by deuterated solvents, which offer superior solvating properties and allow for deuterium lock by the spectrometer.


Exposure to high concentrations of carbon tetrachloride (including vapor) can affect the central nervous system, degenerate the liver and kidneys and may result (after prolonged exposure) in coma and even death. Chronic exposure to carbon tetrachloride can cause liver and kidney damage and could result in cancer More information can be found in Material safety data sheets.

Carbon tetrachloride is also both ozone-depleting and a greenhouse gas. However, since 1992 its atmospheric concentrations have been in decline for the reasons described above (see also the atmospheric time-series figure).

Time-series of atmospheric concentrations of CCl4 (Walker et al., 2000).
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