What is Toluene? - Structure, Uses & Formula

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  • 0:01 Toluene
  • 0:46 Structure and Formula
  • 2:23 Common Uses of Toluene
  • 3:13 Use as a Fuel Component
  • 3:44 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Nissa Garcia

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

If you have ever painted a wall, then you have encountered toluene. Toluene is a chemical compound we use more often than we think. In this lesson, we will be learning all about toluene, including its many uses, formula, and chemical structure.


Have you ever used or smelled paint or even paint thinner? That scent is the smell of toluene. Toluene is a liquid chemical compound utilized in the manufacturing of many commercial products, including paints and glues.

Colorless and insoluble in water, toluene can be dangerous when its fumes are inhaled, causing neurological damage and intoxication. Because of this, toluene is sometimes abused as an inhalant drug. Individuals who use paints and thinners frequently, like those who work with such products professionally, wear face masks in order to minimize the inhalation of toluene.

Beyond its uses, however, toluene's chemical structure is quite interesting of its own accord.

Structure and Formula

Toluene, also known as methylbenzene, is an organic chemical compound. It is categorized as such because of the presence of carbon (C) atoms in its chemical formula, C7H8. You may notice that the chemical formula of toluene (C7H8), has seven carbon (C) atoms and eight hydrogen (H) atoms. This is significant because it means that it is classified as a hydrocarbon, a compound that only contains carbon (C) and hydrogen (H) atoms.

Additionally, toluene is considered an aromatic compound because a benzene ring is present in its chemical structure. A benzene ring is present when there are six carbon (C) atoms that connect to one another with alternating double bonds, creating a hexagonal 'ring'. In the case of toluene, the carbon atoms are at each edge of the hexagon.

Because toluene is both an aromatic compound and a hydrocarbon, these name qualifiers may be combined, making the compound an aromatic hydrocarbon. The chemical structure also shows that there is a methyl group, which is -CH3 attached to the benzene ring, the reason why it is also called methylbenzene.

To make it a little clearer, here's the chemical structure for toluene. The benzene ring is highlighted by the red box.


The following illustration shows two ways of drawing the structure of toluene; both are possibilities of how the benzene ring can be illustrated. On the left, the benzene ring is shown as a hexagon that has three double bonds, and on the right, the benzene ring is shown also as a hexagon, but with a circle inside.


Common Uses of Toluene

Toluene has many uses in a lot of commercial products and industrial applications. Let's take a look at the common uses of toluene in various fields.

Toluene is a very good solvent because, unlike water, it can dissolve many organic compounds. In many commercial products, toluene is used as a solvent that is present in paint thinners, nail polish remover, glues, and correction fluid.

Toluene has many uses in different industries. In the explosives industry, it is essential in making the flammable, explosive compound known as TNT or trinitrotoluene. In the plastics industry, it is a component in the manufacturing of nylon and plastic bottles. Hair dyes and nail products include toluene, as well, utilized by the cosmetics industry. It is also used to manufacture inks and paint thinners.

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