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Home Xylene


Xylene encompasses three isomers of dimethylbenzene. The isomers are distinguished by the designations ortho- (o-), meta- (m-), and para- (p-), which specify to which carbon atoms (of the benzene ring) the two methyl groups are attached. Counting the carbon atoms from one of the ring carbons bonded to a methyl group, and counting towards the second ring carbon bonded to a methyl group, the o- isomer has the IUPAC name of 1,2-dimethylbenzene, the m- isomer has the IUPAC name of 1,3-dimethylbenzene, and the p- isomer has the IUPAC name of 1,4-dimethylbenzene. The mixture is slightly greasy colourless liquid commonly encountered as a solvent. Several million tons are produced annually.


Xylenes represent about 0.5–1% of crude oil, depending on the source (hence xylenes are found in small amounts in gasoline and airplane fuels). It is mainly produced from reformate. It is also obtained from coal carbonisation derived from coke ovens. It is produced by dehydrocyclodimerization and by methylating of toluene and benzene.

Via the Isomar process, the ratio of isomers can be shifted to favor p-xylene, which is most valued. This conversion is catalysed by zeolites.



Terephthalic acid and related derivatives

p-Xylene is the principal precursor to terephthalic acid and dimethyl terephthalate, both monomers used in the production of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic bottles and polyester clothing. 98% of p-xylene production, and half of all xylene, is consumed in this way. o-Xylene is an important precursor to phthalic anhydride. The demand for isophthalic acid is relatively modest so m-xylene is rarely sought (and hence the utility of its conversion to the o- and p-isomers).

Solvent applications

Xylene is used as a solvent. In this application, the mixture of isomers is often referred to as xylenes or xylol. Solvent xylene often contains a small percentage of ethylbenzene. Like the individual isomers, the mixture is colorless, sweet-smelling, and highly flammable. Areas of application include printing, rubber, and leather industries. It is a common component of ink, rubber, adhesive, and leather industries. In thinning paints and varnishes, it can be substituted for toluene where slower drying is desired. Similarly it is a cleaning agent, e.g., for steel, silicon wafers, and chips.

Laboratory uses

It is used in the laboratory to make baths with dry ice to cool reaction vessels, and as a solvent to remove synthetic immersion oil from the microscope objective in light microscopy. In histology, xylene is also used for clearing the tissues following dehydration in preparation for paraffin wax infiltration. It is also used after sections have been stained to make them hydrophobic so that a coverslip may be applied with a resin in solvent.

Precursor to other compounds

Although conversion to terephthalic acid is the dominant chemical conversion, xylenes are precursors to other chemical compounds. For instance chlorination of both methyl groups gives the corresponding xylene dichlorides (bis(chloromethyl)benzenes).

Health effects

Xylenes are not highly toxic as indicated by the high values of the LD50, which range from 200 to 4000 mg/kg for animals. The principal mechanism of detoxification is oxidation to methylbenzoic acid and hydroxylation to hydroxylene.