Olefins vs. Paraffins

What's the Difference?

Olefins and paraffins are both types of hydrocarbons, but they differ in their molecular structure and properties. Olefins, also known as alkenes, contain at least one carbon-carbon double bond, which gives them a higher reactivity compared to paraffins. They are unsaturated hydrocarbons and can undergo addition reactions to form new compounds. On the other hand, paraffins, also known as alkanes, consist of only single carbon-carbon bonds, making them saturated hydrocarbons. Paraffins have a higher boiling point and are less reactive compared to olefins. They are commonly used as fuels due to their stability and low reactivity. Overall, olefins and paraffins have distinct characteristics that make them suitable for different applications in various industries.


Chemical StructureUnsaturated hydrocarbons with at least one carbon-carbon double bondSaturated hydrocarbons with only single carbon-carbon bonds
Physical State at Room TemperatureGaseous or liquidGenerally solid
Boiling PointLower boiling points compared to paraffinsHigher boiling points compared to olefins
ReactivityMore reactive due to the presence of double bondsLess reactive compared to olefins
IsomerizationCan undergo isomerization reactionsLess prone to isomerization
HydrogenationCan be hydrogenated to form paraffinsAlready fully saturated, so no hydrogenation needed
Common ExamplesEthylene, propylene, buteneMethane, ethane, propane

Further Detail


Olefins and paraffins are two important classes of hydrocarbons that play a significant role in various industries. Understanding their attributes and differences is crucial for applications in fields such as petrochemicals, plastics, and fuels. In this article, we will explore the characteristics of olefins and paraffins, highlighting their chemical structures, physical properties, reactivity, and industrial applications.

Chemical Structures

Olefins, also known as alkenes, are unsaturated hydrocarbons containing at least one carbon-carbon double bond. This double bond gives them a unique structure, with each carbon atom bonded to only three other atoms. In contrast, paraffins, also called alkanes, are saturated hydrocarbons consisting of single carbon-carbon bonds. This single bond structure allows each carbon atom in a paraffin molecule to be bonded to four other atoms.

The difference in chemical structure between olefins and paraffins leads to distinct physical and chemical properties, which we will explore further.

Physical Properties

One of the key differences between olefins and paraffins lies in their boiling points. Due to the presence of double bonds, olefins generally have lower boiling points compared to their corresponding paraffins with similar molecular weights. This is because the double bond introduces a kink in the molecular structure, reducing intermolecular forces and making it easier for the molecules to escape the liquid phase and enter the gas phase.

Additionally, olefins tend to have higher vapor pressures than paraffins, meaning they evaporate more readily at a given temperature. This property can be advantageous in certain applications, such as in the production of volatile solvents or as fuel components.

On the other hand, paraffins exhibit higher melting points compared to olefins. The absence of double bonds in paraffins allows for closer packing of molecules in the solid state, resulting in stronger intermolecular forces and higher melting points.

Furthermore, olefins often have higher densities than paraffins due to their more compact molecular structures. This density difference can impact their behavior in various processes, such as separation techniques or transportation.

Overall, the physical properties of olefins and paraffins are influenced by their distinct chemical structures, leading to differences in boiling points, vapor pressures, melting points, and densities.


When it comes to reactivity, olefins and paraffins also exhibit contrasting behaviors. The presence of a double bond in olefins makes them more reactive than paraffins, as the double bond provides a site for potential chemical reactions. This reactivity allows olefins to undergo addition reactions, where atoms or groups of atoms are added to the double bond, leading to the formation of new compounds.

Paraffins, on the other hand, are relatively unreactive due to the absence of double bonds. They are often used as inert solvents or diluents in chemical reactions, providing a stable environment for other reactive compounds to react without interference from the solvent itself.

However, it is important to note that certain reactions, such as combustion, can occur with both olefins and paraffins. In combustion, hydrocarbons react with oxygen to produce carbon dioxide and water, releasing energy in the form of heat. This process is commonly utilized in fuel applications, where both olefins and paraffins can serve as energy sources.

Industrial Applications

Olefins and paraffins find extensive use in various industrial applications, thanks to their unique attributes. Olefins, with their reactivity and versatility, are widely employed in the production of plastics, synthetic fibers, and rubber. The ability of olefins to undergo polymerization reactions allows for the creation of long-chain polymers, which form the basis of many plastic materials.

Paraffins, on the other hand, are commonly used as fuels, lubricants, and waxes. Their relatively low reactivity and stability make them ideal for applications where a non-reactive medium is required, such as in engine lubrication or as a protective coating.

Both olefins and paraffins are crucial components in the production of gasoline and other fuels. The different boiling points and reactivity of these hydrocarbons allow for the separation and processing of various fractions during refining processes, enabling the production of fuels with specific properties and performance characteristics.

Furthermore, olefins and paraffins play a significant role in the petrochemical industry, serving as building blocks for the synthesis of a wide range of chemicals. These chemicals find applications in the production of detergents, solvents, pharmaceuticals, and many other consumer and industrial products.


Olefins and paraffins are two distinct classes of hydrocarbons with contrasting attributes. While olefins possess double bonds, making them more reactive and lower in boiling points, paraffins lack double bonds, resulting in higher boiling points and greater stability. These differences in chemical structure and physical properties contribute to their varied industrial applications, ranging from plastics and synthetic fibers for olefins to fuels and lubricants for paraffins. Understanding the attributes of olefins and paraffins is essential for optimizing their utilization in different industries and developing innovative solutions for a wide range of applications.

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