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I often see Phenyl written on cleaning agents in stores. Here are some examples:

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One day, a guy standing beside me at a store picked up a bottle of phenyl/phenol and he said, "The big corporation got it wrong. It's phenol, not phenyl."

I looked up the definition of Phenol, and it reads:

A toxic white soluble crystalline acidic derivative of benzene; used in manufacturing and as a disinfectant and antiseptic; poisonous if taken internally

This is what it says for phenyl:

A hydrocarbon radical (C6H5) regarded as the essential residue of benzene, and the basis of an immense number of aromatic derivatives

I am not a student of chemistry, so I don't know what's right or wrong here. But I want to know whether the big corporation got it right or wrong.

It would be nice if anyone here can explain this in the layman's terms.


This is what the pack says:

Ingredients: Coaltar acids and oils, phenolic compounds.

Pesticide/bactericide/fungicide/germicide.

It is a highly concentrated Phenyle, dilute 1 part phenyle with minimum 100 parts of water, resulting in a pinkish white solution.

Black Disinfectant Fluid - Phenolic type Class Black Type Normal Grade 3

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It's definitely not phenyl in there. This isn't stable and would immediately react to something else. Phenyle seems to be a name for a certain disinfecting agent out of pine oil.

It says "phenolic type" on the bottom, so my best guess, without seeing the actual ingredient list, is that it is a derivative of phenol. Derivative means that phenol is the base structure and it's somehow modified. Phenol itself is toxic but in the past it was used as a disinfectant, especially by doctors. It actually turns your skin white and that color goes away after some hours. Pine oil seems to have phenols in it, but I cannot find information on the structure of those.

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The big corporation may not have got it wrong, but they used a confusing brand name.

In chemistry, phenyl is a name (sometimes abbreviated to Ph in formulae) for part of a chemical not a whole substance (as the dictionary definition you quote correctly states). Phenol is PhOH, which is a substance and was an early disinfectant. There are a range of phenolic compounds that are similar to phenol (but with more complex structures with other things attached to the benzene ring or with multiple benzene rings).

The labels correctly state that the active ingredient in the disinfectants is "phenolic type" which implies a mixture of phenol and related similar compounds. The confusing names are brand names and, unfortunately, there is not rule that says the name you give to brand has to conform to any meaningful chemical name. The same is true when an old brand name passes into common use or a common term was developed without much chemical insight (Americans sometimes casually call petrol "gas" though it is a liquid, in other counters it is sometimes called "benzine" though it rarely contains much benzene; methylated spirits is mostly ethanol and the "methylated" refers to one adulterant sometimes added to make it undrinkable).

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  • $\begingroup$ To be fair, Germans might call petrol Benzin but they call benzene Benzol ;) $\endgroup$
    – Jan
    Aug 17 '17 at 3:06
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Phenol is a disinfectant. Also know as carbolic acid, phenol is the substance put forth by Joseph Lister as the original sterilization agent for use by surgeons. So between phenyl and phenol, phenol (or a derivative) is much more likely in a cleaning product.

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