Understanding Refrigerant

understanding different types of refrigerant

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Understanding Refrigerant Terminology


Everybody relies on refrigerant. It is in refrigerators, cars, offices, homes, trucks, boats, and trains, keeping people comfortable. It prevents our food from spoiling and our equipment from getting too hot. It is literally everywhere. 


Very few people know what refrigerant is – let alone the different kinds of refrigerant, where you can find it, and how it is safely handled.  

Refrigerant Finders wants to help demystify refrigerant and give everyone the language they need to discuss refrigerant. Our expert team created a list of terms below to aid in your understanding of refrigerant. For further questions, give our team a call at 312-291-9169 or visit us online 


What is refrigerant?


Refrigerant is a chemical substance or mixture, usually a fluid or gas, that is used in a refrigeration cycle to transfer heat from one part of a system to another. It is what makes air conditioners work and refrigerators keep food cold. You can find a diagram and overview of the basic refrigeration cycle here 


What are the different kinds of refrigerant?


There are dozens of refrigerants that are used throughout the world. The most common are called halocarbons. Halocarbons include CFCs, HCFCs, and HFCs – which are often known by their specific numbers, such as R12, R22, or R134a, and at times, by the single brand name Freon. Here is a little primer to help sort these all out: 

CFC Type 

Chemical Name 

Chemical Formula 

Common Uses 




Automobile and refrigerator air conditioning, industrial chillers 




Commercial equipment, solvent, foam blowing 




Cooling systems, foam-blowing agents, cleanser for electrical equipment 




Chillers for air conditioning, industrial process cooling 


Dichlorodifluoromethane and Difluoroethane 


Heating, chilling, air conditioning, ventilation applications, dehumidifiers 


  • Chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) refrigerants are compounds made up of chlorine, fluorine, and carbon. CFCs like R12 are commonly used as refrigerants, while R11 is also commonly used as a solvent or in foam blowing agents. They were invented in the 1920s and used extensively until their phase out in the early 1990s. These are the most common CFCs:
  • Hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC) refrigerants are compounds consisting of hydrogen, chlorine, fluorine, and carbon. The most common HCFC is R22, but there are other types, such as R123 and R142b. HCFCs replaced CFCs in many applications but are now phased out in the United States and cannot be produced anymore. 
  • Hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants are compounds consisting of hydrogen, fluorine, and carbon. The most common HFCs are R134a, R404a, and R410a. HFCs are newer than CFCs and HCFCs, and are often used in replacement systems, but they too are being phased out over the next few years in the United States. 

  • Hydrocarbon refrigerants include other chemical compounds, such as propane and isobutane, which can be used in certain systems just like R12 and other refrigerants. Unlike CFCs, however, these refrigerants can be toxic or flammable, posing unique problems for their use. 


There are also refrigerant blends that combine these refrigerant types. For example, R500 is a blend of R12 (a CFC) and R152a (an HFC) that is used in commercial air conditioning and some dehumidifiers. Similarly, R502 is a blend of R22 (an HCFC) and R115 (a CFC), that is often used in refrigerated transportation systems. 


Where do you find refrigerant?  


Refrigerant can be found in all different types and sizes of containers. It can also be found in all different types of equipment. If you are looking for it, here are some important terms for you to know and understand: 


refrigerant in garage

Virgin refrigerant is new, straight from the manufacturer. For HFCs, this might mean that it was manufactured this year. For CFCs, like R12 or R11, this might mean it was manufactured 50 years ago, but still in the original container. 


Recovered refrigerant is material that was removed from refrigeration or air-conditioning equipment and placed into an external container, typically by using an Appion, Refco, Haskel, or Reftec pump. Refrigerant recovered from equipment is typically mixed with oil or other contaminants because it has been running through a compressor.

Recovered refrigerant can be found in various types of equipment. For a comprehensive set of equipment, check out the ASHRAE glossary. For some of the most common equipment types, we have them listed here:  


  • Chillers: refrigerating systems that use different mechanisms to generate chilled water, which can then cool a building or other facility. Chillers are categorized into absorption chillers or mechanical vapor compression chillers. Chillers are often found in large industrial settings or tall office buildings. 
  • Split air-conditioning systems: a unit that separates air-distribution equipment and refrigerant-condensing equipment into more than one section of the system, typically in a separate enclosure. You often find split systems in homes, with the air conditioner outside and a fan coil inside. 
  • Window units: an air conditioner designed to cool a single room while mounted in a window. 
  • Rooftop air conditioner: packaged units that are mounted on the roof and push cold air directly into a duct system in the building below. These are typically found on big box stores or other retail establishments. 
  • Walk-in coolers: typically found in grocery stores within the food and beverage sector, these are insulated rooms or enclosures that rely on a refrigeration system to keep them cold. 


Importantly, refrigerant recovery should be left to the experts. It requires special equipment and experienced knowledge. The experts at Refrigerant Finders can help with recovery from multiple types of stationary equipment, all over the country. Contact our team to discuss the different recovery methods, such as:   


  • Vapor recovery, to remove refrigerant from a system in a vapor (gas) state and then condense it into a liquid for transfer to recovery cylinders. 
  • Liquid recovery, to extract refrigerant directly in a liquid state, through a faster process suitable for large amounts of refrigerant. 
  • Push-pull recovery involves extra equipment to pull vapor from an external recovery cylinder to create high pressure which then pushes the liquid refrigerant in the system out the other side and back into the recovery cylinder.  
  • Reclaimed refrigerant is recovered refrigerant that has been processed to remove all oil, moisture, and other particulates and contaminants, so that it meets certain purity standards set by the Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI). Reclaimed refrigerant can be re-used in equipment. Reclamation can only be performed by EPA-certified businesses (called reclaimers) to ensure that it is done correctly.   
  • Recycled refrigerant is a term some people informally use to describe reclaimed refrigerant. However, only reclaimed refrigerant has been cleaned and can be re-used. Recycled refrigerant is often recovered refrigerant that someone re-uses without cleaning. 


How is refrigerant stored? 


When refrigerant is not in systems, it is stored in cylinders, cans, or tanks of various types and sizes. Here are some of the key things to know about them. 


cans of r12 refrigerant

Disposable cylinders contain virgin refrigerant and typically come in two different sizes: 30 pounds and 50 pounds. These sizes reflect the net weight of the refrigerant inside. A disposable cylinder has only one valve, allowing the refrigerant to be released into equipment, and is not designed for recovered refrigerant or other gases to be recovered into it.   


When discussing disposable cylinders, you may come across informal names such as pigs or jugs. For example, “what will you pay for a 30lb pig of R12?” or “how much is in that 30 lb jug of Freon?” 

gastop of refrigerant


refrigerant cannister


Recovery cylinders are also sometimes called recovery tanks, and they come in various sizes. The most common sizes are 30 pound, 50 pound, or 145 pound recovery cylinders. Unlike disposable cylinders, recovery tanks have two valves, allowing for refrigerant to be released from the cylinder into equipment, and allowing for recovered refrigerant to be put back into the cylinder. They look like this:

recover refrigerant



Half-ton tanks are recovery cylinders that hold 1,000 pounds of refrigerant, sometimes more, depending on the type of refrigerant. They look like this:



cans of refrigerant


weitron r12 refrigerant



Refrigerant may also come in cans that typically weigh 12 ounces or 14 ounces (sometimes 15 ounces). The cans are designed to be “one shot” and do not contain valves. Many people inject these refrigerants into their air conditioners after puncturing the can, and then simply dispose of the can. People sometimes refer to these cans as “one pounders” as well, since they weigh almost one pound.

cans of r12 refrigerant


Tare weight refers to the empty cylinder weight, with no refrigerant inside. Because disposable cylinders and recovery cylinders are made of strong metal, they can be very heavy, even when there is no refrigerant inside. For example, the average 50-pound recovery cylinder weighs 35 pounds empty. This can also lead to some confusion since a full 30-pound disposable cylinder of R12 actually weighs 36 pounds. The tare weight of the cylinder is 6 pounds and the refrigerant inside weighs 30 pounds. For a list of common tare weights, use this chart: 

Disposable Tank Tare Weights 


Tare Weight 





100lbs (Drum) 


200lbs (Drum) 


Reclaim / Recovery Tank Tare Weights 


Tare Weight 


17.4lbs or 11lbs (depending on the type) 







What else should I know about refrigerant?  


Now that you know the difference between R12 and R134a, and how to calculate the tare weight of a cylinder, you should also know how to handle refrigerants safely and effectively. Here is some useful information to help. 


Refrigerants, especially CFC refrigerants like R12 and R11, are harmful to the planet. They have high global warming potential (GWP), which refers to the potency of a refrigerant relative to carbon dioxide. They also deplete the ozone layer, which is the highest region of our stratosphere and protects plants and humans from harmful ultraviolet rays. Furthermore, each CFC has an ozone-depleting potential (ODP) score.  The score represents the relative amount of harm to the ozone layer caused by a chemical compound.  


The US Environmental Protection Agency has abundant information regarding the environmental impact of each of these refrigerants, like R12 or R22, in a single table that is worth reviewing. It lists the GWP and ODP of all CFCs and other compounds. You can also discover interesting information on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) website. 


Because CFCs and HCFCs are harmful to the planet, they are also considered hazardous materials. This means that the US Department of Transportation has set rules and regulations governing how they can be safely transported and highlights the types of labels that must be placed on boxes before transporting them. Given this information, you should not send these products through the mail, unless working with a reputable company like Refrigerant Finders, that has developed a DOT-compliant program with FedEx to ship CFCs in the mail. Furthermore, the hazardous designation means that CFCs and some HCFCs can only be sold to technicians who have been certified by the US EPA, such as the team at Refrigerant Finders. For more information, give our experts a call today. 


What about all those acronyms? 


In addition to refrigerant acronyms, like R12 or CFC-12 or R134a or HCFC-22, there are some refrigeration industry acronyms that are worth understanding: 


  • MVAC stands for Motor Vehicle Air Conditioning. You would find an MVAC technician at an auto shop to help fix your car’s AC. They must all have EPA 609 certifications. 
  • HVAC stands for Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning. HVAC technicians are people you would call to your house to fix a problem with an air conditioning system. There is sometimes an R at the end – HVACR – which stands for Refrigeration. (Note that in some hot climates, they use the acronym ACMV to stand for Air Conditioning and Mechanical Ventilation, since they do not need the “H” for heating in such climates).  
  • AHRI stands for the Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute. 
  • ASHRAE stands for the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers. 


What is a refrigerant buyback program? 


Refrigerant buyback programs allow people to receive great value for their old refrigerants. As we transition from equipment that uses CFCs to newer systems that rely on HCFCs or HFCs, it is common to find an old cylinder or can of R12 Freon lying around with no use.

Refrigerant buyback programs help to ensure the old CFCs are handled properly, by EPA-certified technicians, and not left to simply collect dust. They also ensure that the owners of the R12 refrigerant receive proper value for these old refrigerants. If you want to understand what your R12 refrigerant is worth, call Refrigerant Finders today at 312-291-9169 or by visiting our website.


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