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An ether molecule has an oxygen atom connected to two alkyl (see hydrocarbon) units through carbon-oxygen single bonds. The two alkyl groups can be the same or different:

chemical structures of dimethyl ether, diethyl ether, and ethyl methyl ether

The following are NOT examples of ethers because the oxygen atom is not connected to two different carbon atoms via single bonds or because the attached group is not an alkyl:

chemcial structures of methyl alcohol, ethyl acetate, and acetaldehyde

Ether is also used as shorthand to refer to one of the most common ethers, diethyl ether, shown above.

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Additional Info

Peroxide Formation

Caution iconEthers are particularly prone to formation of dangerous peroxides. Anyone using an ether should read that peroxide link FIRST.

An Ether That is Not An Ether

The term "petroleum ether" is an old term used to refer to a mixture of hydrocarbons with a specific boiling point range. In other words, there is no ether in petroleum ether! Synonyms for petrolem ether include naphtha, petroleum benzin, benzin, and the lab slang, "pet ether". The petroleum ether most commonly used in laboratories has a boiling point range of roughly 30 to 60 °C.

Cyclic Ethers

In many ethers, the atoms are arranged in a closed ring:

examples of cyclic ether structures
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SDS Relevance

Ethers and mixtures that contain ethers will always have a Safety Data Sheet that you should read thoroughly before use.

Again, the risk of peroxide formation is particularly high with ethers. Be sure to read about peroxides so you know how to detect, avoid and/or deal with them should you encounter them. Many ethers (such as diethyl ether) are highly volatile and flammable. Diethyl ether does not require a flame or spark to ignite and can be ignited by static electricity or a hot plate.

Many ethers, particularly the crowns, are eye and skin irritants and/or toxic. The halogenated ethers such as bis(chloromethyl) ether and chloromethyl methyl ether are known human carcinogens.

Always read the SDS before using an ether so you know what safety precautions to take. Use appropriate engineering controls, wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), have good ventilation, and avoid heat or ignition sources.

Further Reading


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See also: alcohol, peroxides.

Additional definitions from Google and OneLook.

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