The Effects of Breathing Antifreeze Fumes

Antifreeze, a combination of water, ethylene glycol and other chemicals, is used in all types of vehicles to prevent radiator fluid from boiling over on hot days and freezing on cold days. Ethylene glycol, in particular, is toxic and can cause breathing and heart difficulty, brain damage, kidney failure and death. Antifreeze should never be ingested, and its fumes should never be inhaled 1.


While federal regulations do not consider antifreeze to be a hazardous material, it can be classified as such due to the metals and other contaminants that are present in it. Antifreeze is extremely poisonous to both animals and humans 1. For these reason, it should never be disposed of in waterways, septic systems, storm sewers or even on the ground.

Effects of Breathing Antifreeze Fumes

While ingesting antifreeze can cause the most harmful effects to the body, it is still not safe to inhale fumes from the product 1. Antifreeze fumes can cause eye irritation and upper-respiratory irritation. Additionally, inhaled fumes, particularly if from a mist, can cause:

  • breathing difficulties
  • headaches
  • drowsiness
  • blurred vision
  • irregular eye movements
  • nausea
  • vomiting

Material Safety Data Sheets show that repeated inhalation of antifreeze fumes may affect the central nervous system 1. Coma may occur if the inhaled antifreeze fumes were in mist form 1. Additionally, individuals with pre-existing medical conditions may be more susceptible to the effects caused by inhaling antifreeze.

Medical Treatment

If an individual has inhaled antifreeze, move him to an environment with fresh air 1. If he is experiencing breathing difficulties or has stopped breathing, administer artificial respiration, and seek emergency medical attention. If antifreeze has come into contact with skin, immediately wash the affected area with soap and water. Seek medical attention if irritation persists. If antifreeze has been ingested, immediately seek emergency medical attention. Do not induce vomiting or give any type of medication by mouth.

How to Safely Use

Always store antifreeze in original containers or containers that clearly identify antifreeze as being the chemical that is contained within. Keep away from children and pets, and never dispose antifreeze in a careless manner.

Antifreeze Alternatives

According to the Atchison Animal Clinic, propylene-glycol based antifreeze is a safer alternative. Propylene glycol is less toxic than ethylene glycol, which is the primary ingredient found in most standard antifreeze products. While it can still be harmful, propylene glycol is not as toxic as ethylene glycol, so accidental inhalation or ingestion would be not as disastrous to humans or animals.