What is Benzene? - Uses, Structure & Formula

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  • 0:01 Benzene's Structure…
  • 1:49 History of Uses
  • 2:49 Use in Making Other Chemicals
  • 3:25 Benzene in Gasoline
  • 4:16 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Nissa Garcia

Nissa has a masters degree in chemistry and has taught high school science and college level chemistry.

Expert Contributor
Ronald Okoth

Ronald received his PhD. from Brown University in Providence RI. Ronald has taught college level chemistry.

Benzene is one of the most widely used chemicals involved in manufacturing products we use on a daily basis, such as detergents, plastic and rubber. In this lesson, we will learn more about the structure, formula and various uses of benzene.

Benzene's Structure and Formula

The chemical substance benzene might not be a household name, but we encounter it more often than we think. It's involved in various industrial processes to manufacture products we use on a daily basis, like plastics, dyes and glues, to mention a few. It's also a component of gasoline.

Benzene is used to manufacture glue and plastic bottles, and it is a component of gasoline.
Benzene products

Benzene is a liquid that is colorless and flammable, with a sweet and gasoline-like odor. While it is a useful chemical substance, we must remember it is a toxic chemical, and continuous exposure to it can have cancerous effects. This is because benzene is a carcinogen, which means it's a chemical or agent that can potentially cause cancer.

The chemical formula of benzene is C6H6, so it has six carbon (C) atoms and six hydrogen (H) atoms. Its chemical structure can be described as a hexagon ring with alternating double bonds, as shown in this illustration.

Three ways to draw the chemical structure of benzene
Benzene Structure

The chemical structure of benzene shows that for each carbon atom, there is one hydrogen atom. There are three ways to draw the chemical structure of benzene, which you can now see on screen. The illustration on the left (1), shows all the carbon and hydrogen atoms and how they are bonded together. The second illustration, (2), is also another way to draw benzene, where each edge of the hexagon corresponds to each carbon atom in the structure, and the hydrogen bonds are not shown. The third illustration, (3), shows that a circle can be drawn in place of these alternating double bonds.

Because of its chemical formula, C6H6, benzene is classified as a hydrocarbon, which is a compound that consists of only carbon and hydrogen atoms. Its structure and formula reveal benzene to be an aromatic hydrocarbon, which is defined as a compound that is composed of hydrogen and carbon that has alternating double bonds forming a ring.

Benzene's History of Uses

One of the early uses of benzene dates back in the 19th and early 20th centuries. During this period, the odor of benzene was considered pleasant, so it was used as an aftershave. In 1903, Ludwig Roselius, a German coffee merchant, made benzene popular by using it to decaffeinate coffee. Of course, now that we know that benzene is a carcinogen, using it as an aftershave and using it on coffee is definitely something that we do not do anymore.

Ludwig Roselius used benzene to decaffeinate coffee.
Ludwig Roselius

Another early use of benzene was for degreasing metal. However, because it was later known that benzene is carcinogenic and toxic, other chemicals that are less toxic and carcinogenic replaced benzene.

Now, benzene is one of the top 20 most widely used chemicals in the United States. It's still used in many industrial processes to manufacture plastics, lubricants, rubbers, synthetic fibers and dyes. However, its non-industrial uses are limited because benzene is carcinogenic and toxic.

Benzene in Making Other Chemicals

Most of the manufactured benzene is used to produce other chemical substances. However, about 80% of benzene is used to make mainly three chemicals: ethylbenzene, cumene and cyclohexane.

Benzene: used to make other chemical substances
Chemicals from benzene

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Additional Activities


Benzene can be categorized as an aromatic hydrocarbon.

1. What are hydrocarbons?

2. Which of the compounds below can be categorized as a hydrocarbon?

The Structure of Benzene:

Benzene has the chemical formula C6 H6 .

3. What is the chemical formula of each of the compounds shown below?

4. Which of the following compounds has the chemical formula C10 H8 ?

Uses of Benzene:

Benzene is used as a gasoline additive because it is soluble in gasoline. Both benzene and the main components of gasoline are hydrocarbons with similar intramolecular forces. Since "like dissolves like," benzene is highly soluble in gasoline.

5. What is the expected solubility of benzene in each of the compounds shown below? (Indicate whether benzene will be soluble or insoluble)

Answer Key:

1. Hydrocarbons are organic compounds whose structures are composed of only carbon atoms and hydrogen atoms.

2. Only choice D is a hydrocarbon.

Why? Because the structure of the compound is composed of only carbon atoms and hydrogen atoms.


The chemical formula of the first compound is C7 H8.

Why? The structure is made up of seven carbon atoms and eight hydrogen atoms.

The chemical formula of the second compound is C8 H10 .

Why? The structure is made up of eight carbon atoms and ten hydrogen atoms.

4. The first compound has the chemical formula C10 H8 .

Why? Because the first compound is composed of ten carbon atoms and eight hydrogen atoms, while the second compound is composed of twelve carbon atoms and ten hydrogen atoms.


Why? Benzene is insoluble in water because water is not a hydrocarbon. The intermolecular forces in water are very different from the intermolecular forces in benzene. Benzene is soluble in hexane because hexane is a hydrocarbon. The intermolecular forces in hexane are similar to the intermolecular forces in benzene.

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