What is Refrigerant R12?
A lot of people have heard of Freon. The stuff your dad or grandfather put into his car, so the air conditioning worked. The stuff that is supposed to be bad for the ozone layer.
But did you know that Freon is just a brand name for a chemical gas generically called R12 (CFC-12)? Did you also know that the chemical name for R-12 is dichlorodifluoromethane? The story of “Freon” is actually an interesting tale, and one with an ending that may surprise you.
The Rise and Fall of R12 Refrigerant
Many people believe that R12 refrigerant is the greatest invention in the history of cooling. Developed nearly 100 years ago, the chemist who created it won prestigious awards for his work. It was manufactured and sold in cylinders and cans throughout the United States and used in everything from home air conditioning units and cars to industrial chillers and nuclear facilities. But then something changed. Manufacturing of the refrigerant was banned. Cars started to use R134a. Home air conditioning units switched to R404a. Industrial chillers relied on R22, and R12 refrigerant was no longer available on store shelves.
Why did this happen? And where did all the R12 go?
The Invention of R12
Early in the 20th century, the world was looking for a way to provide refrigeration and air conditioning that was safe and affordable. Many options, like ammonia, propane, or methyl chloride, were either expensive or dangerous. The head of General Motors, Charles Kettering, was especially interested in a gas that would be odorless, nontoxic, and nonflammable, so it could be used in cars.
Kettering assembled a team of chemists, led by Thomas Midgeley, Jr. , and in 1928, they developed R12 refrigerant (dichlorodifluoromethane or CCl2F2 or simply CFC-12), which became the first refrigerant that could be safely used to air condition an automobile because it was non-flammable and would not start a fire in a collision. The promise of the invention was realized right away. R12 was not only nontoxic and nonflammable. It was also remarkably stable, could be used under a number of different operating conditions, and was miscible with oil in a way that made it ideal for use with compressors and other equipment. The Society of Chemical Industry awarded Midgeley the prestigious Perkin Medal in 1937. (For even more about Midgley and some of his controversial inventions, read this.)
Interestingly, Kettering’s team invented a number of other refrigerants at the same time. They invented R11 refrigerant (trichlorofluoromethane CCl3F or CFC-11), R113 refrigerant (trichlorotrifluoroethane or CCl2FCClF2 or CFC-113), and R114 (dichlorotetrafluoroethane or CClF2CClF2 or CFC-114). They also invented HCFC-22, a hydrochlorofluorocarbon, with the chemical name chlorodifluoroethane or CHClF2.
The Uses of R-12 Refrigerant
It is believed that R12 is the most widely used of all refrigerants in the world over time. By the 1970s, it is estimated that global production of CFCs, dominated by R-12, was over one million tons per year and generated over $500 million in sales. By 1990, the sale of CFC-related goods and services in the United States was as much as $28 billion per year.
In the early 1930s, R-12 refrigerant was being used in refrigerators, office buildings, and trains. Home air conditioning units, called “Atmospheric Cabinets,” were next – leading to the exponential growth of air conditioning and personal cooling units throughout the United States, and eventually the world. Shortly after this, R12 was used in dehumidifiers and water fountains, as well as ice makers, and liquid chillers.
Many CFCs were used for non-refrigerant purposes as well. Chlorofluorocarbons such as R12 were also used in medicine. Metered-dose inhalers used to treat asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease relied on CFCs as propellants to help spray the medicine out of the inhaler. This helped patients breathe the medicine into their lungs. CFCs were also used in other aerosol spray products, as blowing agents in foam used for construction or to insulate refrigerated equipment. CFC-11 is commonly used as a solvent that can clean contaminated or clogged equipment. R11 effectively and safely removes particulates and sludge when flushed through these systems.
CFCs such as R12 are used extensively in nuclear facilities. By some calculations, 93% of the CFCs that were manufactured in the United States each year were used in the process uranium for nuclear fuel.
The Ban on R-12 Refrigerant
R12 refrigerant was the dominant refrigerant for decades, until 1975, when scientists discovered that CFCs, like R12 and R11, were harmful to the ozone layer. The fact that it was useful in so many ways was outweighed by its harm to the planet.
Soon regulations were put in place to limit the use of R12. The government banned the use of R12 in certain aerosol sprays as early as 1978. By 1987, the United States and 22 other countries first signed the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, phasing out the production of R12 and other CFCs and halons over time. By 1993, over 100 counties had signed the Montreal Protocol, and it soon became the first universally ratified treaty in United Nations history.
The impact has been significant. The hole in the ozone layer has healed, as images like this will show:
But what happened to R12? Where did R-12 refrigerant go? And what do I do if I still have some of it?
R12 Refrigerant Today
The Montreal Protocol and EPA regulations did not ban the use of R12 refrigerant. It is illegal to manufacture new R12, but it is not illegal to sell or use R12. And many of the cylinders and cans of Freon R-12 sold for decades throughout the United States are still around. Lots of chillers and even refrigerators and cars manufactured before the Montreal Protocol are still in operation. Existing R12 refrigerant can be bought, sold, and used – subject to EPA regulations – nearly 35 years after the Montreal Protocol was first signed.
In fact, there is an entire secondary market that exists for R12 today. Refrigerant Finders offers a great refrigerant buyback program for R12, R11 and all other CFCs. We can safely and conveniently purchase your old R12, and put cash in your pocket, if it is new or virgin R12 in cylinders or cans.
We are also able to buyback your refrigerant if it is dirty refrigerant recovered from old equipment. We also offer recovery services, where we safely remove refrigerant from old industrial equipment and chillers.
Give our experts a call today at
We paid Wesley, a customer from Las Vegas, NV, for his used R12.