What Is Petroleum Ether Used For?

Petroleum ether, also known as benzine, is primarily used as a solvent or glue remover. It is a light hydrocarbon of the pentane family, and a natural byproduct of the gasoline refining process. The substance is highly volatile and flammable, and must be handled with care. However, in relatively small amounts, such as those contained in commercial solvents, it is generally safe.

Petroleum ether also has a number of medical and laboratory uses. The substance suspends fats and lipids without damaging their essential compositions, so it can be used as a tool for making plant-based extracts. According to the Indian Journal of Pharmaceutical Science, petroleum ether was used to make an extraction of Amorphophallus paeoniifolius tuber in a study to determine whether the plant had anti-inflammatory properties. The ether preserved the fats and oils contained in the plant and allowed an injectable, sterile solution to be made from it.

A refined version of petroleum ether called ligroin can be created under laboratory conditions. Ligroin is a light, colorless, flammable liquid that is used as a laboratory solvent. According to the Deutches Museum, ligroin was used as fuel for the Benz Patent-Motorwagen Number 1, the first automobile with an internal combustion engine.