Triethanolamine and its variants

Choosing the correct grade of TEA

Triethanolamine is commonly found in countless formulations that range from industrial metalworking formulas to baby shampoo. There are four common grades of TEA, and unfortunately, the nomenclature for the different grades often confuses even experienced chemists and formulators. At best, this can lead to ordering the wrong product and wasting time in correcting the error. At worst, buying the wrong grade could lead to unintentionally adding a suspected carcinogen (diethanolamine) to your personal care products.

Are you sure that you want “Triethanolamine 85%?”

Triethanolamine is often diluted with 15% water to lower the freeze point and make handling easier. Unfortunately, it’s often also cut with 15% diethanolamine for improved corrosion resistance. This leads to endless ambiguity when a customer orders “Triethanolamine 85%.”

In brief, if you want water with your triethanolamine, you want to order the low-freeze grade (LFG). If you want diethanolamine in it, you want to order triethanolamine 85%.

Refer to the following chart to see the differences:

Official Name
(Ask for this when ordering)
TEA DEA Water Freeze Point (°F) Often used because…
Triethanolamine 99% 99% min 0.4% max 0.2% max 70 You have a hot room or drum heaters so handling is not an issue.
Triethanolamine 99% LFG 85% 0.35% max 15% 23 You don’t want your TEA to freeze at room temperature
Triethanolamine 85% 85% 15% 0.2% max 64 The addition of DEA aids in corrosion resistance for metalworking and lubricating fluids.
Triethanolamine 85% LFG 70% 13% 15% 16 It’s like TEA 85% but has a lower freeze point

Created with the HTML Table Generator

My goal with this article is to help eliminate confusion when ordering triethanolamine for your products. As always, if you have questions, contact your FBC Chemical sales representative for advice on which grade is right for your application.