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Cellulose ether - a multitalented polymer for many applications

Cellulose ethers

Cellulose ethers are chemical derivatives of cellulose and serve as a natural gelling and thickening agent, making them suitable for home care and personal care applications. In contrast to cellulose, cellulose ethers are water-soluble and are also used in many other fields of application due to their rheological properties and water retention. Their shear-thinning behaviour makes them easier to process in the construction industry as well as in paints and coatings. Depending on the application, the viscosity, solubility and swelling time can be adjusted so that cellulose ethers can be used in a wide variety of industries.

Cellulose is extracted from deciduous timber, coniferous timber or cotton using a thermocatalytic process.

Various cellulose derivatives can then be synthesized by modifying the chemical structure of cellulose, a fully plant-based substance. This involves partially or completely substituting the hydrogen atoms of the hydroxyl groups with alkyl groups.

This process of generating cellulose ether is called etherification. The properties of the resulting substance depend on the average degree of substitution, degree of molar substitution, number of hydroxyl groups and the distribution of the substituted groups.

There are many types of cellulose ether, including:

  • Carboxymethyl cellulose (CMC)
  • Methyl cellulose (MC)
  • Ethyl cellulose (EC)
  • Hydroxyethylcellulose (HEC)
  • Hydroxypropyl methylcellulose (HPMC)
  • Methyl hydroxypropyl cellulose (MHPC)
  • Ethyl hydroxyethyl cellulose (EHEC)

Whether a cellulose ether is soluble in water or other mediums depends on the number and product type of ether groups, depending on the end-use. A low degree of etherification results in a cellulose ether that can dissolve in aqueous solutions, while a high degree of etherification makes the product soluble in nonpolar solvents. Using more than one etherification agent will result in a mixed cellulose ether.

Because there are so many types of cellulose ether, it is quite natural that the substance exists in different forms with varying consistency and texture.

This means the substance can be manufactured in the form of a fine powder with a high viscosity or uniform, quick-drying beads. Nevertheless, most types of cellulose ether are ivory in color and fine powdery. The crucial thing, however, is the consistency resulting from the addition of cellulose ether, which is similar to that of a viscous gel.

TER Chemicals offers the highly versatile and water-soluble carboxymethyl cellulose (CMC), hydroxyethyl cellulose (HEC) and methyl hydroxyethyl cellulose (MHEC, MC). Feel free to talk to us about your needs.


Cellulose ether acts as a binder, protective colloid, thickener, water retention agent, film former, etc., for the production of various industrial products such as building materials, paints, paper, detergent, textiles and food. In the construction industry, cellulose ether is used as a thickener and water retention agent. In the food industry, cellulose ether is used in confectionery, bakery products, nuts, cream, creams, sweetener tablets, cheese and tomato sauces. Our cellulose ethers are mostly used as rheology modifiers in various construction applications.

One of the most common uses of cellulose ether is as a construction additive. In the construction material industry, the chemical derivatives of cellulose are used as binders, film-formers, thickeners and water-retaining agents. 

This is because cellulose ether is ideal for increasing the consistency of construction materials, improving their adhesive properties and boosting their water-holding capacity.

Furthermore, the addition of cellulose ethers to construction additives can slow down the hardening of mortar, gypsum, cement and other coatings, depending on product type.

Methyl hydroxyethyl cellulose (MHEC) is the most frequently used ethyl cellulose for this application. In contrast, although hydroxyethyl cellulose (HEC) is also used in construction work, it is meant more for reducing sedimentation.

Cellulose ether also acts as a thin-bed adhesive (i.e. for bonding tiles) in dry mortar. Cement- or gypsum-based materials that contain cellulose ether are used as grout or fillers.




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Jens Vinke


Head of Business Unit