Toluene reacts as a normal aromatic hydrocarbon in electrophilic aromatic substitution. Because the methyl group has greater electron-releasing properties than a hydrogen atom in the same position, toluene is more reactive than benzene toward electrophiles. It undergoes sulfonation to give p-toluenesulfonic acid, and chlorination by Cl2 in the presence of FeCl3 to give ortho and para isomers of chlorotoluene.
Importantly, the methyl side chain in toluene is susceptible to oxidation. Toluene reacts with Potassium permanganate to yield benzoic acid, and with chromyl chloride to yield benzaldehyde (Ã‰tard reaction).
The methyl group undergoes halogenation under free radical conditions. For example, N-bromosuccinimide (NBS) heated with toluene in the presence of AIBN leads to benzyl bromide. The same conversion can be effected with elemental bromine in the presence of UV light or even sunlight. Toluene may also be brominated by treating it with HBr and H2O2 in the presence of light.[1