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What is the Difference Between an R134 & an R134A Refrigerant?

Updated June 13, 2017

Refrigeration chemicals provide cool air inside your car on a hot summer day, keep your home comfortable and maintain the proper temperature in your refrigerator/freezer. Each of these devices requires specific refrigeration chemicals to function properly, and only a certified HVAC technician should attempt to perform service on them. Refrigerants that help keep our food and living spaces cool also can be hazardous to your health.

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Refrigeration Technology

Refrigeration works by pulling heat out of an environment, rather than putting cold into an environment. All refrigeration systems circulate air around or through a network of coils that contain a supercooled chemical substance that efficiently removes heat from the circulating air. The now-cool air recirculates back into the environment, and the cycle continues. Usually, a thermostat or similar device detects when the cooling unit needs to cycle on and off.


The refrigerant known in the industry as R134a came into use in the 1990s as automakers, among others, sought a more environmentally safe way to provide cooling inside cars and trucks. Ironically, R134a now faces serious scrutiny as a culprit in global climate change, and as of 2011, the European Union has banned its use in all new cars. Still, R134a ranks as more or less the industry standard for domestic and automotive cooling needs.


Some people use the terms R134 and R134a interchangeably, as seen in a casual search of automotive websites and storefronts, but they aren't identical. The same number and type of atoms make up R134 and R134a, but the arrangement differs. Although R134 is technically a refrigerant, it's less efficient at moving heat.

Safety Risks

The gas in a canister of R134a, while largely inert, still isn't 100 per cent safe. Like other refrigerants, the container can explode if kept near intense heat or fire. If you release and inhale the gas, it could cause drowsiness and dizziness, and even damage your central nervous system, according to the International Programme on Chemical Safety. As R134a is normally very cold, frostbite ranks as the most immediate threat from skin contact. If frostbite occurs, you should rinse the affected area in cool water, but leave any clothing in place and seek help immediately.

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About the Author

Josh Patrick has several years of teaching and training experience, both in the academy and the private sector. He presented original work at the 20th Century Literature Conference in Louisville, Kentucky. Patrick worked for three years on the editorial board for "Inscape," his alma mater's literary magazine. He holds a Master of Library and Information Science.

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