Smarter Living: Chemical Index
Methylene chloride is used widely in many industrial processes and is an ingredient in many consumer products, including spray shoe polish, water repellents, spot removers, wood stains, varnishes and finishes, as well as glues, lubricants and rust removers. It is recognized by health scientists to cause cancer and is capable of causing damage to the developing fetus, the reproductive system and the nervous system.
Methylene chloride causes cancer in animals and potentially can cause cancer in humans. Methylene chloride causes lung and liver tumors, and mammary (breast) tumors in animal studies.
Exposure to methylene chloride affects the nervous system (brain) and can cause headaches, dizziness, nausea, clumsiness, drowsiness, and other effects like those of being drunk. Effects on the nervous system can be long-lasting and possibly permanent if exposures are high, and if they occur frequently over months or years.
Methylene chloride is converted to carbon monoxide in the body. Since carbon monoxide interferes with oxygen delivery, methylene chloride can make angina and other heart symptoms worse in people with heart disease. People with lung conditions, smokers, and people who are overweight or pregnant also may be more sensitive to methylene chloride.
When inhaled or absorbed through the skin, methylene chloride can reach the developing fetus through the placenta, and it can enter breast milk.
Methylene chloride is used in many industrial and consumer applications. In the work place, it is most often used as an aerosol propellant, a degreaser in manufacturing, a paint stripper and a polyurethane foam blowing agent. It is also an extraction solvent for spices, caffeine, and hops. It is found in consumer products such as spray shoe polish, water repellents, spot removers, wood floor and panel cleaners, glues, lubricants, wood stains, varnishes and finishes, painting products, rust removers, glass frosting/artificial snow, and some automotive products.
Exposure to methylene chloride occurs by breathing contaminated air, eating or drinking contaminated food or water, or during use of methylene chloride-containing consumer products. Exposure from consumer products occurs as a result of breathing the vapors given off by the product or from direct contact of the liquid material with the skin. The highest exposures usually occur in workplaces where the chemical is used.
Methylene chloride is also frequently found as a contaminant at hazardous waste sites, and persons living near these areas may be more highly exposed. Since methylene chloride evaporates rapidly into air, exposure by breathing is the most likely source of exposure in the workplace, in the home, and from hazardous waste sites.
Alternatives to methylene chloride are readily available and are already used in consumer products.
Avoid products that contain methylene chloride and choose instead: water-based adhesives, water-based cleaners, and soy-based paint strippers. Mechanical methods and benzyl alcohol are both safer substitutes for methylene chloride-based paint strippers.
Although a number of state agencies have taken action to reduce exposure to methylene chloride and the market is responding by developing safer alternatives, the federal government must act so that unsafe chemicals like methylene chloride are removed from the market and new chemicals are tested for safety before they are put into use. Legislation was introduced in April 2010 to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and to keep the public safe. Support NRDC's efforts to get a good bill passed.
See NRDC's factsheet on methylene chloride.
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Toxicological Profiles, Methylene Chloride, September 2000.
International Agency for Research on Cancer Monograph on dichloromethane (PDF), vol 71. 1999.
The Institute for Research and Technical Assistance (IRTA), Glendale, CA. Methylene Chloride Consumer Product Paint Strippers: Low-VOC, Low Toxicity Alternatives. 2006.
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). 2005. Pocket guide to chemical hazards. DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 2005-149.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Household Products Database.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA). 1995. Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS). Dichloromethane.
last revised 12/27/2011