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Ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid, widely abbreviated as EDTA, is an aminopolycarboxylic acid and a colourless, water-soluble solid. Its conjugate base is named ethylenediaminetetraacetate. It is widely used to dissolve limescale.

Molar mass: 292.24 g/mol, Formula: C10H16N2O8, Density: 860.00 kg/m³, IUPAC ID: 2,2',2'',2'''-(Ethane-1,2-diyldinitrilo)tetraacetic acid, Melting point: 237 °C, Soluble in: Water

Uses :


In industry, EDTA is mainly used to sequester metal ions in aqueous solution. In the textile industry, it prevents metal ion impurities from modifying colours of dyed products. In the pulp and paper industry, EDTA inhibits the ability of metal ions, especially Mn2+, from catalyzing the disproportionation of hydrogen peroxide, which is used in "chlorine-free bleaching." In a similar manner, EDTA is added to some food as a preservative or stabilizer to prevent catalytic oxidative decoloration, which is catalyzed by metal ions. In soft drinks containing ascorbic acid and sodium benzoate, EDTA mitigates formation of benzene (a carcinogen).

The reduction of water hardness in laundry applications and the dissolution of scale in boilers both rely on EDTA and related complexants to bind Ca2+, Mg2+, as well as other metal ions. Once bound to EDTA, these metal centers tend not to form precipitates or to interfere with the action of the soaps and detergents. For similar reasons, cleaning solutions often contain EDTA.

The solubilization of ferric ions, at or below near neutral pH can be accomplished using EDTA. This property is useful in agriculture including hydroponics. However, given the pH dependence of ligand formation, EDTA is not helpful for improving Fe solubility in above neutral soils.[10] Otherwise, at near-neutral pH and above, iron(III) forms insoluble salts, which are less bioavailable to susceptible plant species. Aqueous [Fe(edta)]− is used for removing ("scrubbing") hydrogen sulfide from gas streams. This conversion is achieved by oxidizing the hydrogen sulfur to elemental sulfur, which is non-volatile:

    2 [Fe(edta)]− + H2S → 2 [Fe(edta)]2− + S + 2 H+

In this application, the ferric center is reduced to its ferrous derivative, which can then be reoxidized by air. In similar manner, nitrogen oxides are removed from gas streams using [Fe(edta)]2−. The oxidizing properties of [Fe(edta)]− are also exploited in photography, where it is used to solubilize silver particles.

EDTA was used in the separation of the lanthanide metals by ion-exchange chromatography. Perfected by F.H. Spedding et al. in 1954, the method relies on the steady increase in stability constant of the lanthanide EDTA complexes with atomic number. Using sulfonated polystyrene beads and copper(II) as a retaining ion, EDTA causes the lanthanides to migrate down the column of resin while separating into bands of pure lanthanide. The lanthanides elute in order of decreasing atomic number. Due to the expense of this method, relative to counter-current solvent extraction, ion-exchange is now used only to obtain the highest purities of lanthanide (typically greater than 4N, 99.99%).


EDTA is used to bind metal ions in the practice of chelation therapy, e.g., for treating mercury and lead poisoning.[11] It is used in a similar manner to remove excess iron from the body. This therapy is used to treat the complication of repeated blood transfusions, as would be applied to treat thalassaemia. The U.S. FDA approved the use of EDTA for lead poisoning[12] on July 16, 1953, under the brand name of Versenate,[13] which was licensed to the pharmaceutical company Riker. Alternative medical practitioners believe EDTA acts as a powerful antioxidant to prevent free radicals from injuring blood vessel walls, therefore reducing atherosclerosis.[14] The U.S. FDA has not approved it for the treatment of atherosclerosis.

Dentists and endodontists use EDTA solutions to remove inorganic debris (smear layer) and lubricate the canals in endodontics. This procedure helps prepare root canals for obturation. Furthermore, EDTA solutions with the addition of a surfactant loosen up calcifications inside a root canal and allow instrumentation (canals shaping) and facilitate apical advancement of a file in a tight/calcified root canal towards the apex. It serves as a preservative (usually to enhance the action of another preservative such as benzalkonium chloride or thiomersal) in ocular preparations and eyedrops.[16] In evaluating kidney function, the complex [Cr(edta)]− is administered intravenously and its filtration into the urine is monitored. This method is useful for evaluating glomerular filtration rate.

EDTA is used extensively in the analysis of blood. It is an anticoagulant for blood samples for CBC/FBEs.

Laboratory studies also suggest that EDTA chelation may prevent collection of platelets on the lining of the vessel [such as arteries] (which can otherwise lead to formation of blood clots, which itself is associated with atheromatous plaque formation or rupture, and thereby ultimately disrupts blood flow). These ideas have so far been proven ineffective;[18] however, a major clinical study of the effects of EDTA on coronary arteries is currently (2008) proceeding.[19] EDTA played a role in the O.J. Simpson trial when the defense alleged that one of the blood samples collected from Simpson's estate was found to contain traces of the compound.[20]

EDTA is a slime dispersant, and has been found to be highly effective in reducing bacterial growth during implantation of intraocular lenses (IOLs).


In shampoos, cleaners and other personal care products EDTA salts are used as a sequestering agent to improve their stability in air.

Laboratory applications

In the laboratory, EDTA is widely used for scavenging metal ions: In biochemistry and molecular biology, ion depletion is commonly used to deactivate metal-dependent enzymes, either as an assay for their reactivity or to suppress damage to DNA or proteins.[23] In analytical chemistry, EDTA is used in complexometric titrations and analysis of water hardness or as a masking agent to sequester metal ions that would interfere with the analyses. EDTA finds many specialized uses in the biomedical laboratories, such as in veterinary ophthalmology as an anticollagenase to prevent the worsening of corneal ulcers in animals. In tissue culture EDTA is used as a chelating agent that binds to calcium and prevents joining of cadherins between cells, preventing clumping of cells grown in liquid suspension, or detaching adherent cells for passaging. In histopathology, EDTA can be used as a decalcifying agent making it possible to cut sections using a microtome once the tissue sample is demineralised. EDTA is also known to inhibit a range of metallopeptidases, the method of inhibition occurs via the chelation of the metal ion required for catalytic activity.[24] EDTA can also be used to test for bioavailability of heavy metals in sediments.


EDTA exhibits low acute toxicity with LD50 (rat) of 2.0 – 2.2 g/kg.[3] It has been found to be both cytotoxic and weakly genotoxic in laboratory animals. Oral exposures have been noted to cause reproductive and developmental effects.[22] The same study by Lanigan[22] also found that both dermal exposure to EDTA in most cosmetic formulations and inhalation exposure to EDTA in aerosolized cosmetic formulations would produce exposure levels below those seen to be toxic in oral dosing studies.