Q:

What does ether smell like?

A:

Ether has a sweet, distinctive odor. This organic oxide made from carbon, hydrogen and oxygen is a colorless liquid that is highly flammable. There are several types of ether, ranging from diethyl ether, the most familiar type, to di-tert-butyl ether.

The sweet smell of ether is derived from the distillation process, which involves mixing nine parts sulfuric acid with five parts alcohol. Diethyl ether, also known as ethyl ether, ethyl oxide or diethyl oxide according to How Stuff Works, has a chemical formula of CH3-CH2-O-CH2-CH3. It is called a primary ether because one carbon atom is connected to only one other carbon atom. The other types of ether follow this ABA pattern. Diisopropyl ether, a secondary ether because each carbon is linked to two other carbon atoms, has a chemical formula of (CH3)2CH-O-CH(CH3)2. The tertiary ether, di-tert-butyl ether, has a chemical formula of (CH3)3C-O-C(CH3)3.

Ether is used as an anesthetic, a solvent in explosives and an extraction agent of fats, oils, waxes, resins and alkaloids, which are organic compounds containing nitrogen. The fact that ether is flammable makes it a perfect component for explosives.

Ether is also a component in illegal meth labs. Oftentimes the sweet smell of ether in conjunction with the smell of ammonia and sulfur is a warning sign of a meth house, explains About.com.


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