Smarter Living: Chemical Index
N-hexane, a solvent common in many home maintenance and arts and crafts products, such as spray adhesives, contact cement, paints and stain removers, is a toxic chemical that causes nerve damage.
Short term exposure to n-hexane affects the brain and can cause headaches, dizziness, confusion, nausea, clumsiness, drowsiness and other effects similar to drunkenness.
Effects on the brain can be long-lasting and possibly permanent if exposures are high and recur frequently. Repeated exposure to n-hexane over weeks or months can damage nerves in the feet, legs, hands and arms, causing numbness and tingling--a condition known as peripheral neuropathy. Other symptoms may include a reduced ability to sense touch, pain, vibration and temperature. Muscles may become weak, and in severe cases, may shrink, waste or become paralyzed.
When n-hexane is combined with other solvents, such as acetone and methyl ethyl ketone, nerve damage is increased.
N-hexane is easily inhaled and can be absorbed through the skin.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Household Products Database lists 54 products that contain n-hexane. Half of these products also contain solvents that increase n-hexane nerve damage. The majority are used for home maintenance and arts and crafts, including spray adhesives, contact cement paints and stain remover. Nine are automotive products, such as brake cleaners and spray degreasers for automotive repair.
Many consumers purchase and use these products without being aware of the health risks.
Avoid automotive products, paints, stain removers and glues that list n-hexane as an ingredient.
Safer alternatives, such as water-based adhesives, vegetable- and terpene-based cleaners and water-based cleaners, can and should replace all uses of n-hexane in consumer products and industrial processes.
Congress introduced legislation in April 2010 to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act, a weak law dating back to 1976 that has failed to protect the American public from harmful chemicals. Reforming chemical policy in this country can ensure that unsafe chemicals like n-hexane are removed from the market and that new chemicals are tested for safety before being put into use. Support NRDC's efforts to get a good bill passed.
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Toxicological Profile for n-Hexane. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Public Health Service. July 1999.
NRDC's factsheet on hexane
last revised 12/27/2011