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Phosphoryl chloride

Related subjects: Chemical compounds

Background Information

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Phosphoryl chloride
CAS number 10025-87-3
RTECS number TH4897000
Molecular formula POCl3
Molar mass 153.33 g/mol
Appearance Clear, colourless liquid,
fumes in moist air
Density 1.645 g/cm3, liquid
Melting point

1.25 °C (274.4 K)

Boiling point

105.8 °C (379.0 K)

Solubility in water Reacts
Viscosity  ? c P at ? °C
Molecular shape tetrahedral
Dipole moment 2.54 D
MSDS External MSDS
R-phrases 14-22-26-29-35-48/23
S-phrases 26-45-7/8
Main hazards Highly corrosive,
lachrymator, toxic
Related compounds
Related compounds Thiophosphoryl chloride

Phosphorus oxybromide
Phosphorus trichloride
Phosphorus pentachloride

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

Phosphoryl chloride (commonly called phosphorus oxychloride) is a colourless liquid with the formula POCl3. It hydrolyses in moist air to phosphoric acid to release choking fumes of hydrogen chloride. It is manufactured industrially on a large scale from phosphorus trichloride and oxygen or phosphorus pentoxide. It is mainly used to make phosphate esters such as tricresyl phosphate.


Like phosphate, phosphoryl chloride is tetrahedral in shape. It features three P-Cl bonds and one very strong P=O double bond, with an estimated bond dissociation energy of 533.5 kJ/mol. On the basis of bond length and electronegativity, the Schomaker-Stevenson rule suggests that the double bond form is very dominant (in contrast with POF3). The P=O bond does not resemble the π bond in a carbonyl group as in a ketone. The appropriate description of the P-O interaction is a matter of long discussion. Older textbooks favour a description that invokes participation of the d-orbitals on phosphorus. Some of these d-orbitals project toward the O atom, overlapping with p-orbitals on oxygen. More modern texts seem to favour a description where the P-O π bonding involves the sigma* components of the P-Cl bonds. These descriptions do not consider a role for d-orbitals.

POCl3 structure.png

where pm = picometers

Chemical properties

POCl3 reacts with water and alcohols to give phosphoric acid or phosphate esters, respectively, for example

O=PCl3 + 3 H2O → O=P(OH)3 + 3 HCl

If the water is replaced by an alcohol, the trialkyl phosphate esters result. Such reactions are often performed in the presence of an HCl acceptor such as pyridine or an amine. If POCl3 is heated with an excess of a phenol ( ArOH) in the presence of a Lewis acid catalyst such as magnesium chloride a triaryl phosphate ester is formed, for example:

3 C6H5OH + O=PCl3 O=P(OC6H5)3 + 3 HCl

POCl3 can also act as a Lewis base, forming adducts with a variety of Lewis acids such as titanium tetrachloride:

Cl3P+-O + TiCl4 → Cl3P+-O-TiCl4

The aluminium chloride adduct (POCl3·AlCl3) is quite stable, and so POCl3 can be used to remove AlCl3 completely from reaction mixtures at the end of a Friedel-Crafts reaction. POCl3 reacts with hydrogen bromide in the presence of AlCl3 to produce POBr3.


Phosphoryl chloride can be prepared by the reaction of phosphorus trichloride with oxygen at 20-50 °C (air is ineffective):

2 PCl3 + O2 → 2 O=PCl3

An alternative synthesis involves the reaction of phosphorus pentachloride and phosphorus pentoxide. Since these compounds are both solids, a convenient way of performing the reaction is to chlorinate a mixture of PCl3 and P4O10, which generates the PCl5 in situ. As the PCl3 is consumed, the POCl3 becomes the reaction solvent.

6 PCl3 + 6 Cl2 → 6 PCl5

6 PCl5 + P4O10 → 10 POCl3

Phosphorus pentachloride also forms POCl3 by reaction with water, but this reaction is less easily controlled than the above reaction.


The most important use for phosphoryl chloride is in the manufacture of triarylphosphate esters (as described above) such as triphenyl phosphate and tricresyl phosphate. These esters have been used for many years as flame retardants and plasticisers for PVC. Meanwhile trialkyl esters such as tributyl phosphate (made similarly from butan-1-ol) are used as liquid-liquid extraction solvents in nuclear reprocessing and elsewhere.

In the semiconductor industry, POCl3 is used as a safe liquid phosphorus source in diffusion processes. The phosphorus acts as a dopant used to create N-type layers on a silicon wafer.

In the laboratory, POCl3 is widely used as a dehydrating agent, for example the conversion of amides to nitriles. Similarly, certain cyclic amides can be cyclised to dihydro isoquinoline derivatives using the Bischler-Napieralski reaction.

Two uses for phosphorus oxychloride in organic chemistry

Such reactions are believed to go via an imidoyl chloride; in certain cases where it is stable, the imidoyl chloride is the final product. For example pyridones and pyrimidones can be converted to chloro- derivatives of pyridines and pyrimidines, which are important intermediates in the pharmaceutical industry. Likewise barbituric acid is converted to 2,4,6-trichloropyrimidine. by reaction with POCl3 at 140 °C.

POCl3 246trichloropyridine.png

Related to this chemistry is the use of POCl3 in acylation of activated aromatic rings via the Vilsmeier-Haack reaction to produce aryl aldehydes and ketones. The reaction most often uses a formamide such as DMF or N-phenyl-N-methylformamide, and it produces an iminium salt which is easily hydrolysed to the aldehyde upon workup. For example anthracene gives 9-anthraldehyde:

Vilsmeier-Haack formylation of anthracene
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