Periodically, a canned Dimethyl ether (DME) is marketed to our industry as a butane/propane alternative. Sellers claim it’s a better solvent for extraction of plant material that is non-toxic, without residual, and that it can be purged faster. DME marketers especially like to push that the solvent is organic and non-explosive, implying it’s a safer alternative.

Let’s analyze these claims a bit deeper.

#1: “This is an overall better solvent.” 

DME does, in fact, do a better job at stripping components from plant material. It does such a good job that other industries use it at low temperatures to remove chlorophyll and fats from plant material.

While this may be good for other industries, it is unsuitable for our application, since both of these are contaminates in an extract. As the cited article also states, DME is used to remove water from plant material, as water can be devastating for the integrity of extract. We need ultra-low temperatures for DME to be useful for our application specifically, which can be difficult to achieve.

#2: “It can purge faster.”

The claim that canned solvent can purge faster comes from the boiling point of -8F. While this is true when compared to n-butane, it will have similar purging times to iso-butane and slower purging times than propane.

#3: “It is the safer solvent.” 

So, about those safety claims; is this canned solvent really safer?

It’s organic.”

Saying it’s organic doesn’t hold as much weight as it seems -  butane and propane are also organic compounds. It’s a simple buzzword that catches people’s attention and feeds the perception that it is superior in safety.

There’s no residual.”

When spraying the gas onto a surface, it leaves a clear residual. A less visible residual, but a residual nonetheless. It also has a strong odor similar to grill propane. 

It’s non-toxic and non-explosive.”

They also claim non-toxic. From this chemical data sheet, we can see that it is slightly toxic, and carries a rating of “2” for health on the diamond. The lower explosive limit is at two percent, which is extremely close to butane (1.86%) and lower than propane (2.1%). The gas behaves nearly identical to butane. There is also the possibility for the formation of explosive peroxides if exposed to oxygen.  

While DME is frequently used as an extraction solvent, it requires more energy and care to get a quality extract from it. It needs ultra-low temperatures and constant monitoring to preserve plant pigments  and is more likely to pull water and fats. The claims that it is safer than butane or propane are therefore false, as it could potentially have increased risk. 

Contact us with questions about canned solvent and other recommendations for a solvent.