d-Limonene: The original green solvent

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As a carpet and furniture cleaner, you can question the logic and science behind volatile organic compound (VOC) regulations.

Compliance is not optional.

Complying with new VOC regulations has raised the bar for many small formulators and product packagers.

Enter d-Limonene

For years, d-Limonene has been a solvent of choice for product formulators and cleaning professionals, so it is not a new product.

d-Limonene is a natural oil that is extracted from the peels of oranges when orange juice is made, and is unique in the chemical world because it is a solvent that exists in nature.

It is not manufactured through any chemical reaction or process.

In fact, when the oranges are gone, so is the d-Limonene.

Chemistry that works

In chemistry terms, solvency can be measured by a KB Value.

The higher the KB Value, the more dissolving power a chemical has.

d-Limonene has a KB Value of 67. A KB Value reference chart (see below) shows how that rating compares with other traditional solvents.

Also, d-Limonene has a natural and pleasant citrus fragrance because it naturally retains fragrance compounds from the orange after it is extracted from the peel.

KB VALUES
Product Value
Toluene 105
Xylene 98
Perc 92
d-Limonene 67
Mineral Spirits 37
Kerosene 34
Stoddard Solvent 33
MEK N/A
Acetone N/A

The environmental move

Given these positive performance and environmental characteristics, d-Limonene became an early “white knight” in the environmental movement.

In the early days, when there was little demand for environmentally-friendly products, citrus-based cleaners entered the market as the original “green” products that smelled good while offering solid performance.

Many small entrepreneurial companies began to market citrus cleaners as an alternative to commonly-used petroleum-based cleaners.

In recent years, the environmental movement has gained significant momentum. Federal, state and local government agencies have a clear mission to “improve the environment through regulatory compliance”.

One issue that has gained tremendous attention is the management and reduction of VOCs.

These are defined as any compound of carbon, excluding carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, carbonic acid, metallic carbides or carbonates, and ammonium carbonate, which participates in atmospheric photochemical reactions.

In simpler terms, this would be something that volatilizes and shows a propensity to create smog.

Is d-Limonene a VOC? Yes.

Can I still use it in my formulation and cleaning? Yes, d-Limonene is still a very viable solution.

If used in proper ratio with other compatible ingredients, it can be used with great success.

VOC content is certainly an important issue when considering ingredients for a formulation.

However, we must not overlook other issues.

As an example, California maintains a list of chemicals (California Governors Proposition 65 List) that pose serious health concerns.

Including an ingredient in your formulation that falls on this list will require specific label warning language.

d-Limonene is not listed on CA Prop 65, and therefore, does not demand special labeling language.

This is another good reason to look at d-Limonene as a solvent of choice in your cleaning operation.

Why not just use an EPA VOC-exempt solvent?

Just because a product has VOC exemption does not mean it is safe to use in all applications.

For example, acetone is a VOC-exempt solvent.

Acetone is a petroleum-derived product. Because of its low flash point and its high volatility, it can”t be used in many applications.

Also, compatibility concerns with acetone eliminate it from use in many carpet and furniture product formulas.

A chemical can be VOC-exempt and still be on the CA Prop 65 list.

d-Limonene, on the other hand, is safe for you to work with and is safer for your customers.

Promoting health

d-Limonene has many other positive attributes:

  • It is not carcinogenic or mutagenic.
  • It is biodegradable and contains no ozone depleting chemicals.
  • It is generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and thereby is approved for use in food contact applications.
  • It is also approved for us as an inert ingredient by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Looking at the future

d-Limonene is a long-term solution for the industry.

It is around us every day. It”s in food products such as chewing gum, citrus juices, vegetables, herbs, and is also used as a flavor additive in drinks.

It”s used in air fresheners, soaps and perfumes.

It is also being used in various medical procedures, and is demonstrating success as a chemotherapeutic agent in human clinical trials.

d-Limonene has made news recently in research reports, indicating the successful treatment of asthma.

It has been used to treat chronic bronchitis and acute sinusitis.

It has even been used to treat children with acute and chronic sinus infections.

In addition to all of these uses, it is still the “green” solvent of choice in the industrial and institutional cleaning products arena.

Sounds like a safe chemical of choice for textile care.


Mark Henneberry is the vice president of Product Development and Government Affairs at Florida Chemical Company, Winter Haven, FL. He has more than 15 years” experience formulating and marketing products containing d-Limonene. Technical guidance and formulation assistance are available from Florida Chemical. Contact Henneberry at (863) 294-8483, ext. 15, or e-mail [email protected].

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