Ask Difference

Ethylene Glycol vs. Glycerol — What's the Difference?

By Tayyaba Rehman — Published on January 18, 2024
Ethylene glycol is a toxic organic compound used in antifreeze, while glycerol is a non-toxic, viscous liquid used in food, pharmaceuticals, and cosmetic products.
Ethylene Glycol vs. Glycerol — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Ethylene Glycol and Glycerol


Key Differences

Ethylene glycol is a simple diol, primarily used in antifreeze and industrial applications. Glycerol, also known as glycerin, is a triol, widely used in food, pharmaceuticals, and cosmetics for its moisturizing properties.
The chemical structure of ethylene glycol consists of two hydroxyl groups, making it an effective coolant. Glycerol, with three hydroxyl groups, acts as a humectant, attracting moisture.
Ethylene glycol is known for its toxicity, especially when ingested, posing significant health risks. Glycerol is generally safe and non-toxic, often used in products intended for consumption or topical application.
In industry, ethylene glycol is used for its antifreeze and deicing properties. Glycerol finds extensive use in personal care products, food industry as a sweetener and humectant, and in pharmaceuticals as a solvent and softening agent.
Ethylene glycol is a petrochemical derived from fossil fuels. Glycerol is often derived as a byproduct of biodiesel production or from vegetable oils.

Comparison Chart

Chemical Structure

Two hydroxyl groups (diol)
Three hydroxyl groups (triol)

Primary Use

Antifreeze, industrial coolant
Food, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics


Toxic, especially when ingested
Generally non-toxic and safe


Effective coolant and deicing agent
Moisturizing, humectant, sweetening


Petrochemical, from fossil fuels
Biodiesel byproduct, vegetable oils

Compare with Definitions

Ethylene Glycol

A key component in heat transfer fluids.
Ethylene glycol is used in solar panels as a heat transfer fluid.


A non-toxic substance used in food.
Glycerol is added to food products as a sweetener.

Ethylene Glycol

A toxic compound used as a coolant.
Industrial systems often use ethylene glycol for cooling processes.


A triol used as a moisturizer.
Glycerol is a common ingredient in skin care products.

Ethylene Glycol

A petrochemical derivative.
Ethylene glycol is produced from ethylene, a petrochemical.


A humectant in cosmetic products.
Many lotions contain glycerol to attract moisture.

Ethylene Glycol

A chemical used in deicing applications.
Airports use ethylene glycol for deicing aircraft surfaces.


A byproduct of biodiesel production.
Glycerol is obtained from the transesterification process in biodiesel manufacturing.

Ethylene Glycol

A diol used in antifreeze.
Ethylene glycol is commonly found in car antifreeze solutions.


A solvent in pharmaceutical preparations.
Glycerol is used in cough syrups as a solvent.


A syrupy, sweet, colorless or yellowish liquid triol, C3H8O3, obtained from fats and oils as a byproduct of saponification and used as a solvent, antifreeze, plasticizer, and sweetener and in the manufacture of dynamite, cosmetics, liquid soaps, inks, and lubricants.


(organic compound) 1,2,3-trihydroxy-propane or propan-1,2,3-triol; a trihydric alcohol


A syrupy sweet liquid obtained as a by-product in the manufacture of soap from animal or vegetable oils and fats; it is used as an antifreeze, a plasticizer, and a food sweetener and in the manufacture of dynamite, cosmetics etc.


Same as Glycerin.


A sweet syrupy trihydroxy alcohol obtained by saponification of fats and oils

Common Curiosities

What is ethylene glycol primarily used for?

As an antifreeze and coolant in industrial applications.

What makes glycerol a good moisturizer?

Its ability to attract and retain moisture.

Can ethylene glycol be used in food products?

No, due to its toxicity, it's not safe for consumption.

What are the industrial uses of ethylene glycol?

In manufacturing antifreeze, deicing solutions, and as a coolant.

What are the properties of glycerol?

It's viscous, sweet-tasting, and hygroscopic.

Is glycerol safe for consumption?

Yes, it's non-toxic and commonly used in food products.

Is ethylene glycol harmful to humans?

Yes, it is toxic and can be harmful if ingested.

Can glycerol be derived from natural sources?

Yes, it's often derived from vegetable oils or as a biodiesel byproduct.

What is a common use of glycerol in cosmetics?

As a humectant to keep products moist and to soften skin.

Is ethylene glycol used in pharmaceuticals?

Generally not, due to its toxicity.

Is glycerol used in medical applications?

Yes, in cough syrups and as a solvent in pharmaceuticals.

What is the source of ethylene glycol?

It's synthesized from petrochemicals, primarily ethylene.

What is the chemical structure of ethylene glycol?

It's a diol with two hydroxyl groups.

How is glycerol used in the food industry?

As a sweetener, preservative, and moisture-retainer.

Can ethylene glycol be used in skincare products?

No, its toxic nature makes it unsuitable for such use.

Share Your Discovery

Share via Social Media
Embed This Content
Embed Code
Share Directly via Messenger

Author Spotlight

Written by
Tayyaba Rehman
Tayyaba Rehman is a distinguished writer, currently serving as a primary contributor to As a researcher in semantics and etymology, Tayyaba's passion for the complexity of languages and their distinctions has found a perfect home on the platform. Tayyaba delves into the intricacies of language, distinguishing between commonly confused words and phrases, thereby providing clarity for readers worldwide.

Popular Comparisons

Trending Comparisons

New Comparisons

Trending Terms