Uses of Ether: Know the Definition, Properties, Uses - Embibe
• Written By Ankita Sahay
• Written By Ankita Sahay

Uses of Ether – Properties, Uses, Disadvantages

Uses of Ether:  Ether is an organic compound containing an oxygen atom and an ether group connected to two alkyl/aryl groups. It is formed by the substitution of a hydrogen atom of a hydrocarbon by an alkoxy (R–O)(R–O) or aryloxy group (Ar–O)(Ar–O) group. They are represented as R–O–R′.R–O–R′. The use of ether is not limited to using it as a disinfectant before an injection. It has a lot of other uses too.

The word ‘Ether’ is derived from the Latin word ‘Aether’, which means the “pure upper, bright air”. Ethers are very light, volatile, flammable, and have a pleasant odour. They exist as a colourless liquid. Now, if the students are curious about the uses of these compounds, they can read this article on the Uses of ethers to clear all their doubts.

What is Ether?

Ether is a class of organic compounds in which an oxygen atom is connected to two alkyl or aryl groups. Their general formula is R–O–R′R–O–R′ where RR and R’R’ represent two alkyl groups or aryl groups in some cases. Based on the type of alkyl or aryl groups, ethers are divided into two types:

1. Symmetrical Ether – Ethers in which both the alkyl or aryl groups attached to the oxygen atom are similar. For example, dimethyl ether $$\left({{\text{C}}{{\text{H}}_3} – {\text{O}} – {\text{C}}{{\text{H}}_3}} \right),$$ Diisopropyl Ether $$\left({{{\left({{\text{C}}{{\text{H}}_3}} \right)}_2}{\text{CH}} – {\text{O}} – {\text{CH}}{{\left({{\text{C}}{{\text{H}}_3}} \right)}_2}} \right),$$ etc.
2. Asymmetrical Ether – Ethers in which both the alkyl or aryl groups attached to the oxygen atom are different. For example, ethyl methyl ether $$\left({{\text{C}}{{\text{H}}_3} – {\text{O}} – {\text{C}}{{\text{H}}_2}{\text{C}}{{\text{H}}_3}} \right).$$

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Uses of Ether

Among the many uses of ethers, we can find them in the fields of medicine, laboratory purposes, perfume, flavouring agents etc. Let’s examine some of their applications in more detail.

Uses of Ether in Medicine

Since the history of medicines, ethers have been widely used in various fields for the treatment of various ailments. Some of their uses in medicines include:

1. Anaesthesia: They are mostly used as anaesthesia in surgeries. As ethers are volatile liquids, they release vapours that are inhaled by the patients or administered intravenously. They cause loss of consciousness to the patients before surgery. For example, diethyl ether is used as potent anaesthesia, and its actions are accompanied by analgesic drugs and also in the relaxation of muscles.
2. Nowadays, Halogenated ethers such as Isoflurane $$\left({{{\text{C}}_3}{{\text{H}}_2}{\text{Cl}}{{\text{F}}_5}{\text{O}}} \right),$$ Desflurane $$\left({{{\text{C}}_3}{{\text{H}}_2}{{\text{F}}_6}{\text{O}}} \right)$$ and many more are used as effective anaesthesia because of their low toxicity and flammability.
3. Ethers were used in the treatment of diseases like scurvy and pulmonary inflammation.
4. Antiseptic: Ethers were also used as antiseptics. During World War $${\text{II}},$$ Ether was used to disinfect the wounds of patients and save them from deadly infections. Still, they are used as antiseptics.
5. Recreational Drugs: Due to their intoxicating and anaesthetic effects, ethers such as diethyl ethers are used as recreational drugs. This means they cause unconsciousness and desired effects in drug addicts and can be used in recreational activities as they are harmless when taken in therapeutic doses.
6. Spirit of Ether: This is a solution of one part diethyl ether and three parts of alcohol (ethanol) and is used as an anodyne (pain killer or hypnotic effect).

Uses of Ether as Solvents

Ethers are quite unreactive. As a result, they are commonly used as solvents for oil, fats, resins, wax, perfumes, etc. Their ability to form Hydrogen-bonds and combine with the weak London forces of the alkyl groups that are bonded to the oxygen makes ethers a good solvent for a wide range of organic compounds. Some examples of the use of Ether as solvents are:

1. Diethyl ether is commonly used in laboratories as an aprotic solvent. It is mostly used as a solvent in Grignard’s reactions.
2. Tetrahydrofuran (THF) is cyclic Ether commonly used as a solvent in organic compounds. They have a low boiling point that makes their use more favourable as a solvent because they can be removed easily after a chemical reaction from the compound by evaporation.
3. Dimethyl ether (DME) is a solvent that is quite miscible in water and is used as a solvent in lithium batteries.
4. $$1,4$$-Dioxane is the cyclic Ether that is soluble in water and is widely used as a solvent in laboratories for the synthesis of chemicals.

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Uses of Ether as Perfuming and Flavouring Agents

Ethers are widely used in the perfumery and aroma industry due to their olfactory and organoleptic properties. They provide flavours to a variety of food and drugs, including fruit-based foods and beverages, desserts, fruit jams, yoghurts, ice cream, chewing gum, or some pharmaceutical preparations. Let’s take some examples:

1. Some of the new compounds of ethers, such as diethyl ether, are particularly useful in the preparation of perfumes or perfumed articles, including soaps, detergents, and household materials in general use such as essential oils, medicines, etc.
2. $$1$$-methoxy-$$3$$-hexanethiol, imparts the flavour of grapefruit, giving beverages a fruity-green, exotic type flavour.
3. Some ethers are also used in giving salty aromas, particularly meat-like aromas, to impart the typical meaty taste to food such as soups and broths, seasonings, snacks, sauces, or ready-to-eat non-veg meals.
4. Methoxy benzene (anisole) is commonly used as a constituent to impart fragrance in the essential oil of anise seeds.

Uses of Ether in Paints

Ethers are used in dyes and paint industries. Some of those ether examples are:

1. Cellulose Ethers are polymers that are extensively used nowadays in paint industries as thickening agents. As they are biodegradable hence, cellulose ethers are used as adhesives, ceramics, food, and pharmaceutical industry to provide colours to food and drugs.
2. Glycol ether is used as a solvent in spray paints as they do not dry in mid-air. Due to their slow drying character, they give smooth and flawless paint to cars.

Other Uses of Ether in Our Daily Life

1. Ethers are used as cleansing agents in our daily life. For example, Glycol ether is used as cleaners for window glasses, carpets, floors, etc.
2. As ethers are highly volatile compounds, their vapours are used as insecticides, miticides, and fumigants for soil microorganisms.
3. Dimethyl ethers are used to manufacture cosmetic products.
4. Dimethyl ethers (DME) are used as refrigerants with carbon dioxide in the air conditioning system for space ground-based infrastructure.
5.  Other important uses of ethers are as aerosol spray propellant. Dimethyl ethers are nowadays being used as an alternative fuel for diesel engines as they are renewable in nature.

Complex Compound of Ether

There are some very useful ether compounds besides simple compounds like dimethyl ether, diethyl ether, and methoxy benzene. Examples of such compounds are:

Crown Ether: Crown ethers are cyclic chemical compounds that consist of several ether groups in a cyclic manner. There are several uses of Crown Ethers. Crown ethers are useful for dissolving ionic substances such as potassium permanganate in organic solvents such as isopropanol as they have cavities of different sizes, hence allows binding of specific cations and to be solvated with a high degree of selectivity.

Ether Lipid: Ether lipid is a glycerophospholipid in which the SN–1SN–1 position of the glycerol backbone has a lipid attached by an alkyl group and a lipid attached to the SN–1SN–1 position by an acyl group. They form a major part of cell membranes in mammals and even in some anaerobic bacteria’s. Ether lipids are also known for their antioxidant properties.

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Though we know that ethers are very useful compounds in various fields, fulfilling our needs such as in medicines, perfumery, solvents, and many more, they have some serious side effects also.

1. Ethers are highly flammable compounds as they catch fire very easily. Hence they should be handled with utmost care in laboratories and industries.
2. Under certain conditions, Ether gets oxidised and turns into an explosive.
3. As we know that Ether is an anaesthetic, it may lead to nausea and unconsciousness while working with it to chemists in laboratories. Uncontrolled exposure to Ether may be toxic to our health and cause many harmful side effects to the major organs of our body.
4. As Ether is a very volatile liquid, its vapour is dense and will spread around the floor of the place where it is used and on meeting a flame or even a small spark cause an explosion.

Summary

In brief, we can say that ethers are a class of organic compounds having the general formula R–O–R′,R–O–R′, and they are very useful in different fields. Ethers were the first used anesthesia in the history of the medical field. They are widely used in medicines as antiseptics also. Some common ether compounds, such as dimethyl ether, diethyl ether, etc., are used as solvents as well as in other fields like perfumery due to their pleasant smell, food flavouring techniques, adding colour and flavours to medicines, paints, and many more. Thus we can say that like alcohols, ethers are also very useful chemical compounds. But we all know that chemicals have side effects also, so we should use them judicially. Toxic exposure to ethers may cause severe side effects to our health.

Let’s look at some of the commonly asked questions about uses of ether:

Q.1: Is Ether still used?
Ans:
With the development in the field of medicines, the use of Ether as anaesthesia was banned due to its toxic side effects. Now they are used in some laboratory works and also in medical fields in some countries due to their low cost.

Q.2: What is the importance of ethers in the industry?
Ans:
Ethers are used as dyes and as flavoring agents in the paint and pharmaceutical industries. They provide flavour to many foods and drugs, such as fruit-based foods and beverages, desserts, fruit jams, yoghurts, ice cream, chewing gum, or are used for pharmaceutical preparations.

Q.3: What are the two important properties of ethers?
Ans: Ethers have polar $${\text{C}} – {\text{O}}$$ bonds and thus have a net dipole moment. Ethers have a much lower boiling point due to their weak polarity. They are very volatile.

Q.4: What are the two uses of Ether?
Ans:
Besides perfumes, anesthesia, refrigerants, and disinfectants, ethers are used as solvents in chemical laboratories, as well as anesthesia and disinfectants.

Q.5: What is Ether made of?
Ans: Ether is a class of organic compounds in which an oxygen atom is connected to two alkyl or aryl groups. Their general formula is $${\text{R}} – {\text{O}} – {\text{R}}’$$ where $${\text{R}}$$ and $${\text{R}}’$$ represent two alkyl groups or aryl groups in some cases.

Q.6: How are ethers prepared?
Ans: Ethers are most widely prepared by Williamson Ether Synthesis Reaction. In this reaction, a metal alkoxide displaces a halide ion from an alkyl halide by an $${{\text{S}}_{\text{N}}}2$$ reaction. The alkoxide ion is prepared by the reaction of an alcohol with a strong base, sodium hydride.

Q.7: How quickly does Ether work during surgery?
Ans: As anesthesia ether works slowly in around $$20$$ minutes to bring unconsciousness to the patients before surgery. It is still used in some medical fields.

We hope this detailed article on Uses of Ether helps you in your preparation. If you get stuck do let us know in the comments section below and we will get back to you at the earliest.

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