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Created by: Team Chemistry - Examples.com, Last Updated: April 27, 2024


Butane, a term you might have heard in science class, is a fascinating member of the chemistry world, particularly known for its role in lighter fluid and portable stoves. At its core, Butane is a type of gas that belongs to the family of molecules known as hydrocarbons, compounds made up of hydrogen and carbon atoms. This gas is colorless, highly flammable, and exists in two forms, which differ slightly in their molecular structure but share the same chemical formula, Cβ‚„H₁₀. Understanding butane is not just about memorizing its formula; it’s about seeing its practical uses and its significance in everyday life, from fueling our camping trips to being a key ingredient in the production of various materials.

What is Butane?

Butane, a colorless and highly flammable gas, is a type of hydrocarbon that belongs to the alkane family. With the chemical formula Cβ‚„H₁₀, it consists of four carbon atoms and ten hydrogen atoms. This gas is widely used in lighters, portable stoves, and as a fuel for some engines. Due to its ability to easily liquefy under pressure, butane is convenient for storage and transport in metal containers. Common in both natural gas and petroleum, butane plays a significant role in the fuel industry, providing a source of energy for heating and cooking in various applications.

Chemical Names and Formulas

Hill FormulaCβ‚„H₁₀
Alternate NamesDiethyl, Freon 600, Liquefied Petroleum Gas, n-Butane, R-600

Structure of Butane


Butane is like a small chain made up of four carbon atoms linked together, with each carbon atom also holding onto hydrogen atoms to fill up its bonds. Picture it as a straight line of four circles (these are the carbon atoms) with smaller circles (the hydrogen atoms) attached around them. There are two versions of butane: one where this chain is straight, which we call n-butane, and another where the chain bends at the third carbon, creating a shape like a fork, known as isobutane. This simple structure makes butane a lightweight and versatile gas, widely used in everyday items like lighters and portable stoves.

Preparation of Butane

Butane is created through a couple of interesting methods, each involving the transformation of molecules. One common way to prepare butane is through the distillation of crude oil in a refinery. During this process, the crude oil is heated, and its components are separated based on their boiling points. Butane boils at a relatively low temperature compared to other components, making it easy to separate. The chemical equation for this isn’t straightforward, as crude oil is a complex mixture, but think of it as heating a soup and capturing the steam that comes off first – that’s similar to how butane is collected.

Another method involves a chemical reaction called cracking. In cracking, larger hydrocarbon molecules are broken down into smaller ones at high temperatures. An example is the cracking of decane (a component of crude oil) into butane and hexene. The chemical equation for this process looks something like this:

C₁₀Hβ‚‚β‚‚ β†’ Cβ‚„H₁₀ + C₆H₁₂

This equation shows how a molecule of decane (C₁₀Hβ‚‚β‚‚) is transformed into a molecule of butane (Cβ‚„H₁₀) and a molecule of hexene (C₆H₁₂). Through these methods, butane is prepared and then used in various applications, from fueling your camping stove to filling up your lighter.

Physical Properties of Butane

State at Room TemperatureButane is a gas at room temperature and atmospheric pressure.
ColorIt is colorless, making it invisible to the eye in its pure form.
OdorPure butane is odorless, but an odorant is often added for safety reasons, so leaks can be detected.
Boiling PointButane boils at -0.5 degrees Celsius (31.1 degrees Fahrenheit), which means it turns into a liquid at slightly below freezing point of water.
Melting PointButane solidifies or freezes at about -138 degrees Celsius (-216 degrees Fahrenheit), which is way colder than any temperature experienced naturally on Earth’s surface.
Solubility in WaterButane is not very soluble in water; it prefers to stay as a separate layer or float on top if mixed.
DensityIt’s less dense than water, which is why it floats if you try to mix it with water.

Chemical Properties of Butane


Butane is highly flammable, easily reacting with oxygen to ignite, creating carbon dioxide, water, and heat. This combustion process is crucial for its role as a fuel in various applications.

Equation: 2Cβ‚„H₁₀ + 13Oβ‚‚ β†’ 8COβ‚‚ + 10Hβ‚‚O + heat

Reactivity with Halogens

Butane reacts with halogens (like chlorine or bromine) in a halogenation reaction. Under the influence of light and temperature, it replaces hydrogen atoms with halogen atoms.

Equation: Cβ‚„H₁₀ + Clβ‚‚ β†’ Cβ‚„H₉Cl + HCl

This results in the production of chlorobutane and hydrochloric acid.


Butane has the ability to transform into its isomers, rearranging its structure without altering its chemical formula. The conversion from n-butane to isobutane exemplifies its isomerization, highlighting its significance in creating various fuel types and chemicals.


Through the application of heat and sometimes catalysts, butane can undergo cracking, breaking down into smaller molecules. This process is instrumental in producing smaller hydrocarbons like ethylene and propylene, essential for plastic manufacturing.

Equation: Cβ‚„H₁₀ β†’ Cβ‚‚Hβ‚„ + Cβ‚‚H₆

This shows butane’s capability to break down into ethylene (Cβ‚‚Hβ‚„) and ethane (Cβ‚‚H₆), illustrating its versatility in the chemical industry.

Butane (Cβ‚„H₁₀) Chemical Compound Information

Chemical Identifiers

CAS Registry Number106-97-8
Beilstein Number969129
PubChem Compound ID7843
PubChem Substance ID24872900
InChI IdentifierInChI=1/C4H10/c1-3-4-2/h3-4H2,1-2H3
RTECS NumberEJ4200000
MDL NumberMFCD00009424

NFPA label

NFPA Health Rating1
NFPA Fire Rating4
NFPA Reactivity Rating0

Uses of Butane


Fuel for Lighters and Portable Stoves

Butane is best known for fueling lighters and portable cooking stoves. Its ability to easily liquefy and vaporize makes it perfect for compact, portable devices that require a quick and reliable source of flame.


Butane serves as a refrigerant in freezers and refrigerators. Because it transitions from a liquid to a gas at a very low temperature, it’s efficient at removing heat, keeping our food cool and fresh.

Propellant in Aerosol Sprays

In products like hairspray, deodorant, and cooking spray, butane is used as a propellant. It helps to push the product out of the can in a fine mist, making these products easy to use.

Manufacturing of Rubber

Butane is involved in the production of synthetic rubber, a key material in manufacturing tires, footwear, and various industrial goods. Its chemical properties facilitate the polymerization process needed to create rubber.

Blending into Gasoline

Adding butane to gasoline improves its volatility, especially in cold weather, making cars easier to start. This blending makes butane an essential component in automotive fuels.

Plastic Manufacturing

Butane undergoes processes to form building blocks for plastics. By cracking butane, we get smaller molecules that are key ingredients in making plastics, providing materials for countless products we use daily.

Creating Lighter Fluid

Butane is the main component in lighter fluid for refillable lighters. Its high flammability and ease of handling make it the ideal choice for keeping your lighter ready to use.

Side Effects Of Butane

  • Inhalation Hazards: Breathing in butane can lead to dizziness, euphoria, and in severe cases, unconsciousness or even death. It displaces oxygen in the air, which can cause suffocation.
  • Fire and Explosion Risk: Being highly flammable, butane can ignite with just a spark, leading to fires or explosions if not handled properly.
  • Frostbite: Direct contact with liquid butane, which is very cold, can cause frostbite to skin and eyes due to its extremely low boiling point.
  • Health Effects from Long-term Exposure: Continuous exposure to butane can harm your nervous system, affecting coordination and causing headaches and fatigue.
  • Environmental Impact: Although butane is relatively less harmful to the environment compared to other fuels, its release contributes to air pollution and can affect local air quality.


Is Butane Toxic to Humans?

In high concentrations, butane can be toxic, causing dizziness, unconsciousness, or even asphyxiation. Always use in well-ventilated areas to avoid inhalation risks.

Is Butane the Same as Propane?

Butane and propane are different hydrocarbons. Both are used as fuel but have varying boiling points, making them suitable for different applications.

Can You Still Buy Butane?

Yes, butane is widely available for purchase. It’s commonly found in refillable lighters, portable stoves, and as a propellant in aerosol products.

Is Butane More Toxic than Propane?

Butane and propane pose similar health risks, including inhalation hazards. However, both are considered safe when used properly and in ventilated spaces.

Is Butane a Safe Ingredient?

When used correctly and in designed applications, butane is safe. It’s important to follow safety guidelines to prevent inhalation or fire hazards.

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