Ask Erowid

Ask a Question

Find an answer:

View By Category

Search Ask Erowid
Search Vaults

Enter a keyword in the search field above to look up a question or answer on a specific topic.

Off-Site Psychoactive Question Resources
  Ask Dr Shulgin

Resources at Erowid
  Plants & Drugs
  Freedom & Law
  Mind & Spirit
  Arts & Sciences
  Library / Bookstore
  What's New
  About Erowid
Can you extract ether from starter fluid?
Q: Is it possible to extract ether from starter fluid using simply water? How else can you extract ether from starter fluid?

A: In short, not really. The only way to effectively separate petroleum distillates from diethyl ether in starter fluid is by fractional distillation. This requires appropriate equipment and training in relevant lab procedures, can be EXTREMELY dangerous, and is outside of the skillset of most people (see warning below).

First, it is important to distinguish between ether (the specific chemical diethyl ether with the molecular formula C4H10O) and petroleum ether, a name for a mixture of hydrocarbons with no specific chemical identity. When used for inhalation, the term "ether" is usually assumed to mean the specific chemical diethyl ether, used as an anaesthetic in the early 20th century, although there is confusion among experimental individuals, some of whom buy products labeled as containing petroleum ether.

"Starter fluid" (or "starting fluid") is a generic term referring to a mixture of combustible volatile solvents, commonly "engine starter fluid" for automotive or other engine uses. While engine starter fluid includes 20-60% diethyl ether, depending on grade, it also contains petroleum distillates such as hexane and heptane.1 Many charcoal lighter fluids - sometimes also referred to as "starter fluid" - are composed almost entirely of petroleum distillates and contain no ether at all.2

Some websites and experience reports mention a "water extraction" procedure that involves shaking a mixture of distilled water and starter fluid. This method supposedly "separates" the diethyl ether from "impurities" (referring to the petroleum distillates). The technique then describes pouring off or suctioning off particular layers of the resulting mix to get purer ether for inhalation.

The so-called "water extraction" method is simplistic and ineffective, since petroleum distillates and water are not miscible (petroleum distillates do not dissolve in water), and the distillates stay mixed with the ether, because of their common chemical nature. In fact, if the components in the water-insoluble fraction were to separate, which is highly unlikely, the density of ether would put it at the bottom, closest to the water, at the water:non-polar interface, making it very difficult to isolate. Because ether is slightly soluble in distilled water,3 the volume of the ether in the water-insoluble fraction may actually be reduced by repeated shaking and separating.

The Entheogen Review looked at this issue and reported the same thing: "Ether is slightly soluble in distilled water and heptane is insoluble. Hence, if one were to try to clean up starting fluid via repeatedly shaking with distilled H2O and then separating the layers, you not only don't end up with very good ET2O, but you are actually reducing the amount of ether that you have."5

People reporting the inhalation of "ether from starter fluid" by "water extraction" are not successfully extracting ether: they are huffing a mixture of ether and petroleum distillates.

While diethyl ether at moderate doses mixed with proper amounts of oxygen seems to be less toxic than some more modern anaesthetics,5 inhalation of some of the volatile hydrocarbon gases in starter fluid have been shown to lead to nerve and organ damage.6

Warning #

It is extremely dangerous to attempt ether distillation without training and proper equipment. Ether can form very dangerously unstable, explosive peroxides when concentrated by distillation. Ether by itself is quite volatile and can ignite if an improper distillation column is used.


  1. "Glossary of terms related to chemical and instrumental analysis of fire debris". FireNet International Website. Accessed Dec 3, 2007;

  2. "C-A Operations Procedure Manual: Waste Description Index". Brookhaven National Laboratory Website. Accessed Dec 3, 2007; (p.6).

  3. Susan Budavari, et al. (eds) Merck Index 12 Edition. 1996.

  4. C & M. "Obtaining Diethyl Ether". The Entheogen Review. Winter Solstice 2006; XV(4):139.

  5. Stevens WC, Eger EI, White A, et al. "Comparative toxicities of halothane, isoflurane, and diethyl ether at subanesthetic concentrations in laboratory animals". Anesthesiology. 1975;42(4):408-19.

  6. Takeuchi Y, Ono Y, Hisanaga N, et al. "A comparative study on the neurotoxicity of n-pentane, n-hexane, and n-heptane in the rat". Br J Ind Med. 1980;37(3):241-7.

Asked By : Zonnin
Answered By : Lars, ChuangTzu, Ben, Aqua
Edited By : Spoon, Psilo, Fire, Earth
Published Date : 12 / 10 / 2007
Last Edited Date : 12 / 13 / 2007
Question ID : 3114

Categories: [ Extraction ] [ Inhalants ] [ Ether ] [ Chemistry ]

Ask Erowid v1.7 - Jul, 2005

(content and html © the Vaults of Erowid. Please ask permission before publicly reproducing.)