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What is Chlorobutanol?

By Maggie J. Hall
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Chlorobutanol, or trichloro-2-methyl-2-propane, is commonly used as a chemical preservative in a wide range of cosmetic and pharmaceutical products. The antibacterial and antifungal properties of the substance inhibit microbial growth for extended periods of time. The compound has also been abused recreationally and is sometimes used as an euthanizing agent.

Chemists usually combine chloroform and acetone to produce chlorobutanol, and the substance may appear as a yellow to bright white crystal powder with a distinct camphor aroma. The formulation might be manufactured as semi-hydrous or anhydrous but is typically highly flammable and must be maintained in a cool, dry, ventilated area with no flames. The solid is somewhat water soluble but dissolves more readily in alcohol.

When used as a preservative, the concentration of chlorobutanol is typically only 0.5%. Pharmaceutical preparations that often contain the substance include injectable medications, ear, eye, and nose drops, along with ointments and oral sedatives. Over-the-counter formulations that contain chlorobutanol can include ear, eye, and nose drops, along with facial cosmetics, mouthwash, and ointments. Though generally considered non-irritating, continuous topical use might cause skin or tissue irritation.

Chloroform was once used as a general anesthetic. In sufficient quantities, chlorobutanol exhibits properties similar to hypnotics and sedatives. These properties make the chemical attractive to those who abuse various substances. Effects experienced by individuals abusing the formulation include oral numbing, inebriation similar to alcohol intoxication, and extended periods of sleep. Chlorobutanol is generally available through chemical retailers, but some prefer to attempt production in home chemistry labs.

Besides drowsiness and sleep, central nervous system effects can also include altered speech patterns, slurred speech, and lack of physical coordination. Persons under the influence of the substance might also experience cognitive function decline. Extensive use may create abnormalities in the blood. As chlorobutanol breaks down into trichloro-ethanol, the substance carries a risk of possible neurotoxic effects. Researchers have evidence of birth defects occurring after the formulation was administered to laboratory animals.

Some pet enthusiasts use chlorobutanol mixed with water as a humane method of euthanizing reptiles, as the solution causes death in a matter of minutes. Though the substance is used worldwide in numerous formulations, some standards prohibit using the chemical in certain products because of unproven effectiveness or possible safety problems.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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