Ethylene oxide is a colorless gas at room temperature and a colorless liquid below 51°F. It is shipped as a liquefied, compressed gas. Both the gas and liquid are potential fire and explosion hazards. Ethylene oxide has a sweet, ether-like odor at air concentrations above 500 ppm. Ethylene oxide is soluble in water and organic solvents.
It is produced by catalytically reacting ethylene and oxygen. Ethylene oxide ranks 26th in volume among the major industrial chemicals produced in the United States. About 65% of ethylene oxide is used for synthesis of ethylene glycol, an antifreeze product. A mixture of 88% freon and 12% ethylene oxide is used as a cold sterilizing agent for foods and medical equipment and supplies. Ethylene oxide is also used as a fumigant and fungicide in the manufacture of medical products and spices, and as a chemical intermediate.